Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have casualties.
Ideas have consequences. We’re familiar with that phrase. But something I read this last week, and I wish I could remember where so I could cite the source, was that bad ideas have casualties. They actually have human fallout. People get hurt. This isn’t that new of a concept, but I think it’s just nice and succinctly put.
It’s also been said that when words lose their meaning, people lose their lives. That sounds really dramatic, we might think, but it’s true. I want to unpack that today.
Behind this is the idea that how we think influences how we live, even when it comes to Christian matters. J.I. Packer has said wrong ideas about God lead to wrong ideas about how to live. What is implicit and even explicit in this statement is that theology and life are not separate spheres. In fact, how we think about God, even if we don’t realize it, will directly impact how we live our lives.
But it’s not just thinking about God that will impact our lives; it’s how we think about everything. A friend of mine who I’ve had on the podcast, Hunter Levine, made an interesting statement to me recently. He said that most parents, it seems like, are more concerned about the number of F words in a movie or a TV show their children may watch than the actual worldview behind the TV show.
You know what? I think he’s right. I’m not saying that foul language and that type of thing isn’t a concern, but what I am saying is perhaps what is much more dangerous are the actual ideas that are communicated to us through media and through culture and even through friendly conversations that we aren’t aware of, that directly contradict a biblical worldview. Because, remember, these ideas are going to influence us, and bad ideas will have bad effects in our life.
Let’s look at some examples of this. There has been a trend in recent years to change how suicide is talked about. It’s not okay in some circles now to talk about someone killing themself. That sounds too explicit. That seems to make it seem like they did something wrong. We’re softening that. “They ended their life.” “They took their own life.” In some circles, that’s not even okay to say it like that.
What is this trying to do? It’s trying to make suicide some more acceptable, when it shouldn’t be. It should never be acceptable when someone gets to the place where, for some reason, they believe their best option is to kill themself. It’s not okay. We don’t do people a service when we make that seem more palatable. No, it should seem extremely unpalatable and we should have extreme concern and compassion for people who ever feel like that is an option for them. That’s one small example: softening the language around suicide.
What about euthanasia, the killing of older people? Sometimes this is voluntary, where older people may say, “I don’t want to keep living. I’m living in a lot of pain.” A doctor will prescribe medicine or some other person will administer medicine that is given with the intent of killing the person. Sometimes it’s also involuntary, where the person is killed against their wishes simply because they’re old, they’re taking too many resources, something like that.
In the middle here sometimes is this idea that dignity, when it comes to death, is “going out on your terms.” This is the same idea that’s behind the common arguments today for abortion, where it’s “a woman’s right to chose.” We see with euthanasia it’s my right to die on my terms. That’s also somewhat implicit in the suicide conversation. With abortion: my body, my choice. Now it’s not actually her body. It’s not her body that’s being killed; it’s a separate body. That’s another conversation for another day.
Behind all of these is the same actual argument. It’s an argument from autonomy. That’s a word we may not be too familiar with, but autonomy literally means self-law. It’s from the Greek “autos nomos” – self-law. That we are the ones who make the law. I make the law for me. I am the decider of all things regarding and relating to me and what I do. No one else can tell me what is right. No one can tell me what I do.
Now people might not express it like that. They might not even know the term autonomy, but that is the highest moral value in our culture today I suggest to you. Look at the arguments and the pressing political issues. What is same-sex marriage about? I want to live the way I want, and I want the government to recognize, and I want other people to celebrate it. I don’t want to stay with the established laws of the land, which had very good reasons behind them.
What’s abortion about? Autonomy. I want to have sex the way I want to have sex outside of a man-woman committed monogamous relationship for life and I don’t want to deal with the consequences. I want to do what I went to do with my life when I want to do it. That’s what’s behind abortion also.
Oftentimes when it comes to euthanasia, it’s the same thing. I want to live my life and end my life on my terms. I am the decider.
I don’t want to sound glib about these topics. It’s interesting, I chose probably the three hardest examples out there to talk about. I am compassionate about this. The reason that you may not think that when you first hear it is I’m disagreeing with people in their hardest moments. But oftentimes what seems best to us, what appeals most to our innate desires, isn’t actually the good option. Is it dignified to kill one’s self? No, it’s not. Only if you redefine dignity. This is where ideas have casualties. People are dying today or killing themselves because of bad ideas, where culture has taught us that the biggest, the best thing we can do in life is be true to our feelings.
That’s what’s behind the transgender conversation. You are how you feel. Who you are and your identity is not rooted in how you were designed or created. It’s based on how you feel today. In fact, some gender advocates would say you could be one gender today, one gender tomorrow, and back again the next day. It’s based on how you feel. It’s not based in anything physical or else in reality.
That idea has a casualty. People are now going into this type of identity and lifestyle, and sometimes they’re mutilating parts of their body in the process to chase this ideal that’s based on a feeling instead of conforming a feeling to the physical reality of how they were designed to live.
You might say they don’t believe they’re designed in a certain way. That’s an idea. The refusal to affirm that man and woman are designed by God is an idea. It’s a bad idea and it has a casualty. Oftentimes it’s the mental health of people. Oftentimes it’s their physical health and their relationships. They rejected that part. I’m not saying that simply affirming God created you solves all your problems.
But you could even reject the creation aspect of things and still believe that men and women are two distinct types of beings. That there is a male type of being and a female type of being. We’ve rejected that idea too, and that idea has a casualty.
It’s interesting, John Hopkins was one of the first hospitals to start doing transgender surgeries. They stopped doing them because they saw that the success ratio was much too low. It wasn’t actually increasing the quality of life for the people who went through the surgery. As Christians, this shouldn’t really surprise us. The problem is not a physical one. It’s a spiritual and a mental and a psychological issue. I say that compassionately. These are people who our hearts should go out to. We should care about them. We shouldn’t affirm them in what is honestly a delusion.
If you think you’re a man when you’re a woman, that’s a delusional thinking. It’s the same way as if I thought I were a rabbit when I’m a man. That’s not correct. I’m not seeing reality the right way. I’m very off-base there. Once again, these are ideas that are bad ideas and have casualties.
There’s another type of idea I’d like to talk about. That’s something that we may have talked about before, but in school today, sometimes our children are being taught that there are no moral facts. If it’s a moral point of view, it’s an opinion. A fact is only something you can verify. A fact is something that the scientific method applies to. Everything else is an opinion.
What’s interesting on that view is this idea that there are no moral facts is an opinion. You can’t prove that scientifically. You can’t demonstrate that empirically. It can’t be verified in that way. This is a self-refuting type of statement. It would also teach really savvy students that the teacher couldn’t actually say it was objectively wrong for them to cheat on a test because saying it’s wrong to cheat is just her opinion, and why would that opinion be any better than her students’ opinion, especially if this new tolerance idea is in play, where all opinions and views are equally valid. That’s another topic for another day.
This idea that there are no moral facts has seeped into culture, and it’s at play in all of these areas we’ve talked about previously to do. It’s a view in the euthanasia conversation. There are no moral facts. It’s my choice what I do with my body. There’s no overriding moral standard. I can redefine dignity to mean killing myself instead of living and struggling and seeing the beauty and the fight for life and all of that. I understand death is sometimes very difficult. I’ve seen many loved ones die, sometimes after a very hard struggle with prolonged medical illness, and the trouble that that brought along for them and their family. I’m not insensitive to that point. But, my point is when words lose their meaning, people lose their lives. When we redefine the unborn as just a product of conception, we can kill it. At least some people would say so. If we redefine the unborn to be not a human being, we can kill it.
Some people have rightly recognized from a medical and scientific point of view that the unborn is a human being. It’s certainly human. It’s not like it’s a dog or something. And it’s a being. It’s actually alive. It takes in nutrients. It expels wastes. It grows. It adds cells to itself. It has a distinct DNA and blood type, all of these things. It’s not the mother’s body. Some people have even affirmed this, and now they’ve said it’s not a human person. We’re still playing a word game here. This is a bad idea that has a casualty. Because of this bad idea, when this word person loses its meaning, people lose their lives. It’s an artificial distinction often used in conversation to exclude a group of people so that we can kill them.
This has been done before with slaves. When person or human being lost its meaning in the context of the slavery debate, people lost their lives. They lost their freedom. Now you could probably think of other examples besides slavery and abortion and euthanasia and no moral facts and suicide, and these types of things. These are weighty topics, but isn’t that kind of the point? That when we redefine terms that they affect the most important aspects of life. They really do.
We see this in the church. When blessing gets redefined to mean material prosperity and health and wealth, the Gospel is perverted. It’s not the Gospel anymore. People miss the narrow door to salvation because they’ve been led astray by something that maybe uses biblical terms but in unbiblical ways. People lose their spiritual lives. Bad ideas have causalities. We see it in the church. We see it in the culture. We see it with end of life issues and we see it with beginning of life issues.
We need to pay attention to the ideas that we are letting in. I’m not saying we stick our heads in the sand, that we don’t listen to what’s being said. In fact, we need to listen to what’s being said in culture so we can learn how to respond to it. But we should look at everything critically, including the movies we watch, including the TV shows, even animated shows we let our children watch. There is no better way to teach something than through visual and auditory mediums. In other words, TV and movie and theater. These are some of the most powerful ways to communicate ideas.
It’s no coincidence that the better public speakers are the ones that engage more of our senses. They don’t just engage our ears. They engage our eyes. Sometimes they don’t just engage those two things but they actually engage our tactile senses. We actually are holding something and doing something. Studies have shown that the more senses that are involved in an action, the more we remember and the more we learn.
Well TV and movies engage our whole person. They engage our mind, they engage our intellect, they engage our hearts and our emotions and get all of us involved. They’re doing this to teach us something. Very few filmmakers out there have a lack of a view to put forth. They are all trying to teach something. There is a worldview behind a movie in what it celebrates and in what it condemns. Often we don’t pick up on that, but we need to. We need to realize the worldviews that are behind the news stories we read and that type of thing.
The last example I’ll leave you with is of a book I’m currently reading. My wife is pregnant and we are expecting a baby later this year.
I’m reading a book for expectant fathers. It’s interesting that in dealing with what could happen if the child has birth defects, the author says it’s a very difficult conversation you’re going to have to have. There are two options. One is to keep the baby. The other is to terminate the pregnancy. You know what he’s done here? He’s used words and redefined them to morally distance himself and potentially the reader from what is the killing and the murder of an unborn child. He talks about it like it’s a baby if you keep it but it’s just a pregnancy if you don’t. Isn’t that interesting morally distancing language when it comes to the killing of what was just a baby in the previous sentence? It’s not suddenly a different thing based on how you feel about it. Our feelings don’t determine that. Our autonomy, as strong as we may feel it and want to, doesn’t actually change reality. It’s still a baby whether you want it or not.
The way we talk about things betrays how we feel. The way we talk about things can also influence how we feel. We need to pay attention to how other people are talking at us and to us so that we don’t come away with bad ideas that will have consequences and potentially casualties as they take root in society and in our minds.
I’ll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.