Recently, a German court made a ruling that would have been literally unimaginable twenty years ago. The case involved an ex-couple in Hessen. Throughout their relationship, the man took “explicit photographs of his partner and made erotic videos with her.” According to the UK’s Independent, “the woman had consented to all of the material being taken and, in some cases, had taken the photographs herself.” When the relationship ended, the woman demanded that her ex-boyfriend delete every video and picture in which she appeared. According to the Guardian, “her ex-partner had to date shown no intention of reproducing the pictures or putting them online.” But given the phenomenon known as “revenge porn,” in which an ex-partner, by way of payback, posts compromising pictures online, the woman wasn’t taking any chances. The Higher Regional Court in Koblenz ruled that the woman’s personal rights trumped the man’s ownership rights in the photos and videos, at least with regards to those in which she appeared unclothed.
Now, if this story sounds like some kind of parody to you, you’re right. Unfortunately, it’s not a joke. Two states, California and New Jersey, have outlawed “revenge porn,” even when the pictures were taken with the victim’s consent, and at least one dozen more are considering doing so. At the same time, many civil liberties experts believe that criminalizing the posting of material that was shot with the consent of the subject violates the First Amendment.
Missing—actually, to use a proper German word, verboten—in this discussion is any consideration of an obvious preventative measure: do not allow yourself to be photographed in sexually-compromising situations. Pointing this out would almost certainly prompt cries of “blaming the victim.” Now, let me be clear: Men who would post these images online, for whatever reason, are acting reprehensibly, regardless of what the law says. But the law is a poor substitute for prudence, modesty and other virtues, which, it’s fair to say, are increasingly in short supply.
A big part of the reason that this is the case was the subject of the 1998 book, “Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality” by cultural historian Neal Gabler. In the book, Gabler described how Americans, taking their cues from celebrity culture, were coming to see themselves as starring in their own “Life Movie.” Whereas “Puritan culture emphasized values like hard work, integrity, and courage,” the new culture of personality “emphasized charm, fascination and likeability,” what Gabler dubbed “the performing self.” Gabler wrote this at the dawn of the Internet age and decades before the explosion of social media, which enabled people to “screen” their “Life Movies” for others. When you're competing against literally millions of other “Life Movies,” you're tempted to go to foolish lengths to make your “movie” more “compelling,” if for no one else but yourself. Thus you document what shouldn’t be documented.
While Christians aren’t going to these extreme lengths—at least I hope not—we’re not immune to the temptation to call attention to ourselves and to derive our worth from being recognized by others instead of serving others, by rejoicing in our increasing number of “followers” on Twitter instead of in the fact that our names are written in heaven.
~Eric Metaxas (Breakpoint Commentary May 30)
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
Some time ago, I read an article about a three-year-old girl in Elk River, Minnesota, who suffers from a rare malady that involves insensitivity to pain. It is called CIPA -- Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis. People with this disease feel no pain, nor do they sweat or shed tears. There are only approximately one hundred known cases in the world. Little Gabby Gingras has to be watched over constantly. At four months of age, her parents noticed that she would bite her own fingers till they bled, with no expression of discomfort. When she was two yeas old, she had to have her teeth removed to prevent her from biting herself and causing serious injury. She could put her hand on a hot plate and burn herself without feeling a twinge of pain. She always has to wear safety glasses because in one instance she scratched her cornea badly. She plays sports with absolute fearlessness, never hesitant about banging into anything. She says she sometimes feels like crying, but she can't. The life of this little one is in perpetual danger. The average life span for a child with this malady is twenty-five years. The parents of children with CIPA have one prayer -- that their child would feel pain.
If it is possible in our finite world with our limited knowledge to be able to appreciate just one benefit of pain, is it not possible that God has designed this awareness within us to remind us of what is good for us and what is destructive? As horrendous as the illustrations may sometimes be, can we not see the moral framework that detects atrocities and resists tragedies? Could there be a greater, deeper answer than simply saying there is no God?
~ Ravi Zacharias
No, I'm not talking about some revisionist, politically correct version of history. I'm talking about the amazing story of the way God used an Indian named Squanto as a special instrument of His providence.
Historical accounts of Squanto's life vary, but historians believe that around 1608, more than a decade before the Pilgrims arrived, a group of English traders sailed to what is today Plymouth, Massachusetts. When the trusting Wampanoag Indians came out to trade, the traders took them prisoner, transported them to Spain, and sold them into slavery. It was an unimaginable horror.
But God had an amazing plan for one of the captured Indians, a boy named Squanto.
Squanto was bought by a well-meaning Spanish monk, who treated him well and taught him the Christian faith. Squanto eventually made his way to England and worked in the stables of a man named John Slaney. Slaney sympathized with Squanto's desire to return home, and he promised to put the Indian on the first vessel bound for America.
It wasn't until 1619, ten years after Squanto was first kidnapped, that a ship was found. Finally, after a decade of exile and heartbreak, Squanto was on his way home.
But when he arrived in Massachusetts, more heartbreak awaited him. An epidemic had wiped out Squanto's entire village.
We can only imagine what must have gone through Squanto's mind. Why had God allowed him to return home, against all odds, only to find his loved ones dead?
A year later, the answer came. A shipload of English families arrived and settled on the very land once occupied by Squanto's people. Squanto went to meet them, greeting the startled Pilgrims in English.
According to the diary of Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, Squanto "became a special instrument sent of God for [our] good . . . He showed [us] how to plant [our] corn, where to take fish and to procure other commodities . . . and was also [our] pilot to bring [us] to unknown places for [our] profit, and never left [us] till he died."
When Squanto lay dying of fever, Bradford wrote that their Indian friend "desir[ed] the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen's God in heaven." Squanto bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims "as remembrances of his love."
Who but God could so miraculously convert a lonely Indian and then use him to save a struggling band of Englishmen? It is reminiscent of the biblical story of Joseph, who was also sold into slavery, and whom God likewise used as a special instrument for good.
Squanto's life story is remarkable, and we ought to make sure our children learn about it. Sadly, most books about Squanto omit references to his Christian faith.
The hacker mind-set is not confined to this software-hacker culture. There are people who apply the hacker attitude to other things, like electronics or music — actually, you can find it at the highest levels of any science or art. Software hackers recognize these kindred spirits elsewhere and may call them ‘hackers’ too — and some claim that the hacker nature is really independent of the particular medium the hacker works in.
...There is another group of people who loudly call themselves hackers, but aren't. These are people (mainly adolescent males) who get a kick out of breaking into computers and phreaking the phone system. Real hackers call these people ‘crackers’ and want nothing to do with them. Real hackers mostly think crackers are lazy, irresponsible, and not very bright, and object that being able to break security doesn't make you a hacker any more than being able to hotwire cars makes you an automotive engineer. Unfortunately, many journalists and writers have been fooled into using the word ‘hacker’ to describe crackers; this irritates real hackers no end.
The basic difference is this: hackers build things, crackers break them.
...If you want to be a cracker, go read the alt.2600 newsgroup and get ready to do five to ten in the slammer after finding out you aren't as smart as you think you are. And that's all I'm going to say about crackers.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love – a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek –
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.
For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.
Now, however, some scientists are calling the age we're living in the "Anthropocene," that is, the "new human age." And that is not a compliment. It's intended to draw attention to humanity's "dramatic impact on the planet." It's a way of expressing the "feeling that monumental events and dynamics capable of changing the Earth's geologic realities [are] unfolding under our feet." Just as previous periods left "distinctive paleontological, chemical, or physical signatures" in rocks, the promoters of the "Anthropocene" insist that this current epoch will leave signatures "every bit as distinctive as those used to define the past geological epochs." The most obvious of these signatures is increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Thus, advocates of the idea date the onset of the period to the beginning of the industrial revolution, which was made possible by the burning of fossil fuels. If this strikes you as more politics than science, you're not alone. Some of the idea's most prominent supporters acknowledge that calling the present geological period the "Anthropocene" is a political act intended to highlight our impact on the planet. Not everyone is buying the idea of the Anthropocene: Nigel Clark of West Virginia University spoke for many of his colleagues when he wrote that "the term neglects the presence—and force—of terrestrial processes that exist independently from human relationships." Speaking of "terrestrial processes," it's difficult not to notice that, as impacts go, our effect on the planet pales compared to what the Earth has accomplished without us. Towards the end of the Pleistocene, about 12,000 years ago, scientists tell us that Manhattan, where I live, was covered by a sheet of ice two-and-one-half times the height of the Empire State Building.
Yet, in a biblical sense we are living in the Anthropocene. As Genesis tells us, God created man and gave him the task of stewardship over all of creation. And stewardship assumes that what is being looked after is not ours to do with as we please. As N.T. Wright wrote in "After You Believe," the "creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 . . . certainly don't envisage humans tyrannizing creation. Try doing that to a garden, forcing it to do what you want whether the soil will take it or not, and you may well create a wilderness." The analogy to a garden is especially apt. Not simply because the Bible uses the word, but because an important part of our response to a well-cared for garden is aesthetic. There's a seemliness, a beauty, and a rightness to a well-tended garden. It's unmistakably the work of human hands, but hands that work with and for nature, not to exploit it. When it comes to stewarding creation today, however, many of our practices can only be described as "unseemly." Think of the images of the recent smog-out that enveloped northeastern China, for instance. Instead of respecting creation and honoring the creator, we too often treat it as disposable. Even worse, we do this in the name of preserving not human life, but a particular lifestyle enjoyed by a relative handful of us.
This kind of exploitation is of course the antithesis of stewardship. And in more ways than one, the rocks will cry out against us.
As might be expected, God has a purpose in allowing us to be tempted. To begin, let's remember that temptation, with all of its frightful possibilities for failure, is God's method of testing our loyalties. We cannot say we love someone or trust someone until we have had to make some hard choices on that person's behalf. Similarly, we cannot say we love God or trust God unless we have said no to persistent temptations. Quite simply, God wants us to develop a passion for Him that is greater than our passion to sin!
Take Abraham as an example. God asked him to slay his favorite son. He was strongly tempted to say no to God. The altar he built was probably the most carefully constructed altar ever made, as he probably took his time with it. As he worked, he surely thought of numerous reasons why he should disobey God: Isaac was needed to fulfill God's promise. What is more, Sarah would never understand. And above all, how could a merciful God expect a man to slay his own beloved son?
Of course, you know how the story ended. Abraham passed the test; the angel of the Lord prevented him from stabbing his son and provided a ram for the sacrifice. Take note of God's perspective on the incident: "Now I know how fearlessly you fear God; you didn't hesitate to place your son, your dear son, on the altar for me" (Gen. 22:12).
How do we know that Abraham loved God? That he trusted God? Because he chose to say yes when all the powers of hell and the passions of his soul were crying no. This fierce temptation gave Abraham a striking opportunity to prove his love for the Almighty.
...What about the woman who seemingly could not resist falling in love with another man? Or the alcoholic tempted by his friends to revert to his old habits? Or the young man surrounded by the wrong crowd? Why does God not shield us from these circumstances? He allows us the luxury of difficult choices so that we can prove our love for Him. These are our opportunities to choose God rather than the world.
Do you love God?
...But what happens when you are confronted with a tough decision�such as whether you should satisfy your passions or control them? Our response to temptation is an accurate barometer of our love for God. One of the first steps in handling temptation is to see it as an opportunity to test our loyalties. If we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us (1 John 2:15).
Joseph resisted the daily seduction of Potiphar's wife because of his love for God. He asked her, "How � could I do this great evil and sin against God?" (Gen. 39:9). Even if he could have gotten by with his private affair, without anyone finding out, he could not bear the thought of hurting the God he had come to know. The same principle applies to us. Each temptation leaves us better or worse; neutrality is impossible.
That's why God doesn't exterminate the Devil and his demons. Admittedly, the presence of wicked spirits in the world does make our choices more difficult. But think of what such agonizing choices mean to God. We prove our love for God when we say yes to Him, even when the deck appears to be stacked against us.
What it boils down to is this: Do we value the pleasures of the world or those that come from God? The opportunities for sin that pop up around us, the sinful nature within us, and the demonic forces that influence us give us numerous opportunities to answer that question.
In fact, the deep end of the American Bible literacy pool would barely get our ankles wet! In fact, this same report says that forty-five percent of those surveyed—nearly half—strongly agree with the statement that God helps those who help themselves. Really? What Bible are these folks reading? The whole point of the New Testament—of Jesus' death on the cross for our sins, in fact—is that we're lost sinners who cannot save ourselves and need God's help, from first to last.
In our shallowness, we often treat the Holy Book as a self-help book, or as a collection of a few favorite "moral mcnuggets" (as Phillip Yancey calls them) that we put up on our walls via inspirational posters, calendars, or cross-stitched knickknacks.
This shallowness has consequences. The late, great theologian Lesslie Newbigin once said, "Most of us treat the Bible as an anthology of helpful thoughts to which we occasionally turn, and from which we can obtain comfort, guidance, direction." And what's wrong with that? you say. Well, here's the problem, according to Newbigin: "… in that case the Bible, of course, is not our authority." And that's exactly right. If we pick and choose what we find to be inspirational, we are the authority.
Newbigin often told of a Hindu scholar who questioned him about why missionaries always presented the Bible as just another "book of religion." The Bible, said the Hindu, is different than all other sacred books in India, in that it offered a "unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history."
As Chuck Colson pointed out, "For 2,000 years, the Bible, often unaided by any human intervention, has transformed—often dramatically—the lives of those who read it: St. Augustine, St. Anthony of Egypt, Martin Luther, to name just a few. And I have known thousands," Chuck said, "including hardened criminals, who have read the Bible and been transformed for good."
Friends, if we're honest, we all know we need this kind of transformation, but it will never happen if our faith is a mile wide and an inch deep.