The miracle of the loaves and the fishes is the most useless miracle of all… and that’s the point.
In this story, found in all for gospels, Jesus feeds thousands of hungry followers, multiplying just a small amount of food so that it not only completely leaves everyone stuffed, but so there are piles and piles of leftovers.
And yet… Despite this miraculous abundance, what will happen? Just a day later, the leftovers will go start going stale and the bellies which were so full, will be hungry once again. When you’ve eaten to the point of feeling sick, you may think to yourself that you’ll never be able to eat again, but it just takes a day and the hunger will return.
If the miracle was about giving people true satisfaction, it was an epic fail. Nice party trick Jesus, but it doesn’t solve anything. And that’s exactly what Jesus is wanting his followers to see.
In John 6, we read that a day after the miracle the crowds are back looking for Jesus. But weren’t hungry for Jesus himself, they were hungry for more fish sandwiches.
Jesus says: “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:26-27)
And what is the bread that does not spoil? The bread that Jesus describes as coming “down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (6:33)?
He tells them: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus didn’t come to provide our need for daily bread – though he demonstrates in the miracle that he can and in the Lord’s Prayer he does instruct us to pray for that provision. No, Jesus came to BE our daily bread.
Jesus repeats this declaration in 6:48-51… “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
The point of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes was not to show us that Jesus has come to fulfill our bodily desires. It actually fails to do that. The point was to show that no matter how much bread we eat, our bodies will always be hungry. And our souls are the same. We need bread that truly satisfies. We need bread that doesn’t simply help us stay alive for a few more days. We need bread that gives us eternal life.
We need Jesus – the bread of life.
The miracle of the loaves and the fishes is an amazing miracle. But it is also so clever. It is deliberately over the top, and at the same time, deliberately useless.
May we get the point of it and seek after Jesus, not for the temporal things he might give us, but for himself.
After Jesus explains that this was his whole point, many of his followers who were simply following Jesus for the free feed, were disappointed and offended.
John 6:66 says: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
Jesus then asks his 12 disciples: “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
And Peter replies with an amazing answer that shows that they actually now get the point of the whole episode…
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (6:68)
I didn’t know her very well, but it was impossible to miss her. In a church community in a denomination that some might expect to have strong gender expectations, I was always impressed by her wonderful bucking of feminine cliches, shaving her head to support cancer research and proving that a godly woman can be as bold and enthusiastic as anyone. She definitely was no wilting wallflower…
And yet, as God’s Word says, all flowers fall and in the end, everything is hevel.
This life is fleeting, even for the bold flowers that stick out from the bunch.
My comfort in the loss of this godly woman is the confidence that she trusted in the One who does not fade away, who could hold her soul secure in the joyful hope that one day these bodies that sometimes betray us, will be resurrected, restored and renewed in the New Creation.
Until then Suz Bell.
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)
Back around March last year, I noticed that when I asked my Google Home about Jesus, it responded like an overly polite person at a party who had just been asked about some controversial issue of theology:
“Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning.”
Yeah, right Google! Don’t give us that fake humility. You’re just afraid to nail your colours to the mast!
Who Do You Say I Am?
Well, to give Google a break, there are many different views about Jesus amongst Google’s customers. Muslims believe Jesus is a prophet but not divine. Jews believe he is a teacher but not a prophet. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe he is the Archangel Michael and some skeptics even doubt Jesus existed at all!
Even back when Jesus walked the streets of the Middle East, there were lots of views about who he was. Jesus actually asked his disciples this very question:
“And on the way [Jesus] asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”” (Mark 8:27-29)
So at least the disciples understand who Jesus was and what he came to do… Well, not exactly. Peter did initially answer the question correctly, but in the very next few verses, it all goes downhill. Jesus tells his disciples that he has come to die on the cross and that same Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him for getting his mission wrong (see Mark 8:30-33)!
Fortunately, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, his disciples finally came to more fully understand who he was and what he had come to do. This is seen in the clarity of the unanimous testimony about Jesus’ identity throughout the New Testament gospels and epistles. If you want to know who Jesus is, it is shouted from every page of the New Testament.
There are many passages I could point to, but one of the boldest (and my favourite) comes from Colossians 1:15-20…
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Google’s Still Learning
Despite this, I do understand Google’s tentativeness in giving a definitive answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” It is an important question and much of the population of the world disagree on the answer.
Also, to cut Google even more slack, last year they made it a policy to answer “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning”, no matter which major religious figure you asked about.
They received a lot of criticism at the time from people who suspected Google of deliberately targeting Christianity and this was Google’s official attempt at explaining their reasoning:
A New Answer
Well, that was a year ago, and gone is the answer “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning”. Religion may still be complicated, but Google seems to have done some learning. Or at least, whatever algorithm they had set up to side-step the taboo topic of religion, they have now opened the doors to allow Wikipedia to answer your religious questions.
I discovered this recently when I asked my Google Home the questions “Who is Jesus?” and “Who was Jesus?”, and I was rather surprised by the way it answered…
To “Who is Jesus?” Google replied:
“The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s will as revealed in the Old Testament, and he is the Lord of the Church. He is the “Son of David”, a “king”, and the Messiah.”
To “Who was Jesus?” Google replied:
“Jesus (c. 4 BC – c. AD 30 / 33), also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity and is widely described as the most influential person in history.”
Both pretty good answers if you ask me!
In fact, after a bit of experimenting, I found a few other questions that have great answers. If you’ve got Google Assistant, try these out:
What is God?
What is the gospel?
What is the only rule of faith and practice?
What is the chief end of man?
Now as fun as it is to ask Google questions, you don’t need to own the latest voice-activated technology to ask “Who is Jesus?”. The answer is not found in the robotic voice of Google, but in the living Word of God. My hope is that if you are curious about the identity of Jesus, you might pick up a bible and read one of the gospels or New Testament epistles for yourself. Two thousand years after he asked it, Jesus’ question to his disciples still echoes to each one of us: “But who do you say I am?”
Google was right last year when it said that religion can be complicated. The answer to the important question of Jesus’ identity is neither simple nor easy. But like Google seems to have done in the last year, there is indeed much to be learned.
So why not say a prayer right now? If you’re not sure, I’ll show you how.
See, when I talk to God each day, there are four things I like to say:
Wow God. Thank you. Sorry. Please.
I pray about each one of these…
Wow God, you’re loving! Wow God, you’re great!
God! All things you did create!
made the sun, the worm, the cow,
So first of all I just say “Wow!”
I thank you God for all you give.
thank you for the life I live.
thank you most for Jesus who
Did die for me. Dear God, thank you.
sorry God when I’m not good,
I don’t love you as I should.
Jesus’ death forgive my sin
And help me love and live like Him.
lastly God I ask you please
all of my daily needs.
help me grow to trust in you
And help all those who need you too.
now I’ve prayed all four of these.
every prayer I end the same:
I pray these things in Jesus’ name.
(This poem will be, Lord willing, the heart of the new children’s book I am working on. Along with this poem being illustrated into a fun little story, it will also include tips for parents about how to pray with their young children and pages that will be useful for going through this model of prayer with your child.)
To some who were too familiar with Bible stories, Jesus told this parable:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a tax collector and the other a Pharisee. The tax collector stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am a character in bible stories that is known for being a marginalised outcast who you’re supposed to sympathise with, not like the obvious villains in the story – the teachers of the law, the Jewish rulers, the rich, the powerful – or even like this Pharisee. I’m always the one that Jesus wants to eat with and the one that in the end, you are supposed to want to emulate.’
“But the Pharisee stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that the Pharisee, rather than the tax collector, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I am passionate about being pro-life. But I am also passionate about pro-lifers (or anyone for that matter) using logically sound and robust arguments. I studied logic at University and I have always loved learning about this stuff and knowing when a seemingly strong argument is actually quite weak and full of holes. An argument like the one in the picture above, can sound compelling. It can even feel like a real “gotcha” line that clearly exposes the logical inconsistency of the other side, but as I hopefully will explain, I think it actually does the opposite.
Ok. First of all, let me acknowledge that I understand the sentiment and the argument that the sign is trying to make. Society is hypocritical in the way that it might value one form of life and not another, and if life was found on another planet it would be celebrated, but when life is found in the womb it can so easily be discarded.
But let me try to explain where this sign technically falls down.
(this is my own daughter’s heartbeat in the womb)
The sign asks the rhetorical question “Why would a bacteria be considered life on Mars and a heartbeat not be considered life on Earth?”.The suggestion is obviously, that some pro-choice people say that a fetus in the womb with a heartbeat is still not a “life” or not “alive”. This is very true and I have had this said to me before. But it is also true that when a pro-choicer is talking about whether a fetus is a “life”, they are not meaning in the same sense that a Martian bacteria might be called a “life”. 99 times out of 100, they are talking about a fetus not being a human person or being a life in the same sense that you or I am. They generally acknowledge that there is something alive in the womb, but they might say it is part of the mother’s body or that it’s just a “blob of tissue” or even that it is a “parasite” or a “tumor”.
In fact, despite what the sign suggests, many pro-choicers would happily say that that thing in the womb is just like bacteria. Like bacteria, they might say, it has no right to life and if you had bacteria living inside you and you didn’t want it, you would have every right to kill it.
Not Necessarily Hypocrisy
The key problem with the sign is that it suggests that pro-choicers are acknowledging that bacteria is alive but denying that a fetus is. Firstly, I don’t think that second statement is true generally, and if it is, it is usually because they are simply using the word “life” to mean different things. That’s not hypocrisy really. That’s just the complexity of the English language.
For example, would you say that a sperm cell is a “life”? Not usually I presume. That’s why, despite what we might think about the morality of masturbation, we don’t equate it with abortion. But, if a sperm cell was found on Mars, we probably would say that “life was found on Mars”, we might even say “human life was found on Mars” (if it was a human sperm cell).
The use of “life” is just different for different contexts, and we definitely don’t want to make the argument that every single thing that is “alive” should be considered a “life” in the same way that a fetus is. If we do that, we’ll be joining PETA to protest the “murder” of all animals, or we’ll be worried about every alive blade of grass that we step on.
The pro-life sign at the top of this article tries to point out the hypocrisy of the pro-choice side in how they use the word “life” and care for one living thing but not another, but it actually also exposes this same supposed hypocrisy on the pro-life side.
Josh Brahm from the US-based Equal Rights Institute (who is also my hero and mentor when it comes to discussing abortion) says that whenever the topic of “life” comes up in the abortion debate says that he always asks the following clarification question: “Do you mean biological life, or something more philosophical, like when a person with rights and value begins?”
In it he concludes: “The most important concept is that when somebody starts talking about ‘life’ in the abortion debate, don’t make another step before clarifying whether they’re talking about biological life or something more philosophical. Then you can respond to their argument without accidentally committing a straw man fallacy.”
That’s what this sign fails to do. It presumes that the two uses of the word “life” are talking about the same thing. Which in reality is almost never the case, for both pro-choicers and pro-lifers.
Brainstorming a Better Sign
Now, it’s easy to simply poke holes in a bad sign and a bad argument. But what would be a better sign that points out a legitimate area of pro-choice hypocrisy on the issue of “life”?
I’ve had a bit of a brainstorm and here’s a couple I came up with:
They’re not perfect, but I feel they maybe have less logical holes than the original.
Tell me what you think in the comments below, and maybe post your own suggestions!
Yesterday, I had an interesting question put to me on Facebook about a phrase in 1 Corinthians 2. Below is the question, and my answer…
[Paul] uses “rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:8) which is another way of saying demons, and even says if ‘they’ knew who he was, they would not have crucified him. That is a very strange thing to write – why would Paul write about demons crucifying Christ when the gospels say it was the Romans who did it, and the gospels mention nothing about demons crucifying Christ?
What does Paul mean by “ruler”?
I totally agree that it would be a very strange thing for Paul to write if “rulers of this age” meant “demons” in 1 Cor 2. But it doesn’t. It just means the human rulers of that age.
I can understand why you might think (or have heard) that Paul was referring to demons here. Sometimes “rulers” are referring to spiritual rulers and demons. But not often.
If you look up the times in Paul’s epistles where the word “ruler” is used, you find it in three epistles – Romans, 1 Corinthians & Ephesians.
In Ephesians, he is clearly using it to refer to demons. Here are the four references: “he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (Eph 1:20-21) “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Eph 2:2) “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Eph 3:10) “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)
As you can see, Paul always surrounds the term “rulers” with other spiritual language so that the reader can clearly understand that he is talking about demonic rulers rather than human ones.
In no other Pauline epistle, does he use the term “ruler” in this way.
In Romans, he uses the term several times. Have a read of Romans 13:1-6… “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”
If you’re wondering why I included such a long passage, it’s because the Greek word for “governing authorities” in 13:1 is “ἄρχων”. This is exactly the same Greek word that is translated as “rulers” in 1 Corinthians 2:6 & 8.
As a side note, Acts also records Paul as talking about rulers in an earthly rather than spiritual sense. See Acts 13:26-29 and Acts 23:5. (Incidentally, in Acts 13:26-29, Paul specifically says that these earthly rulers had Jesus crucified and put in a tomb.)
So clearly Paul doesn’t only use the word “rulers” to refer to demons. In fact, he rarely does so and always makes it explicit.
What does Paul mean by “of this age”?
But the question may arise: Why does Paul use the phrase “of this age”? Doesn’t that point to a more spiritual concept or ruler? Like in Ephesians 1:21 where he says: “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”?
Well, you just have to look at how Paul uses the phrase “of this age” in the rest of 1 Corinthians, to see what he means by that term.
He actually uses it several times: “philosopher of this age” (1 Cor 1:20) “wisdom of this age” (1 Cor 2:6) “rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:6 & 8) “standards of this age” (1 Cor 3:18)
If Paul talks about the “philosopher of this age” in chapter 1 and then talks about the “rulers of this age” in chapter 2, why would the first be talking about people and the second be talking about demons? Clearly the phrase “of this age” isn’t being used to refer to a spiritual reality.
If you actually go through all of 1 Corinthians 1:18-29, you can see that “of this age” is paralleled with “of this world”. The philosopher, the wise and the ruler are all those people who are powerful and impressive to human society, but whose strength is passing away. Although they seem strong, they are weak in comparison to God.
What does Paul say about the “rulers of this age”?
Lastly, even if you were unsure whether Paul was talking about “rulers” in the earthly way he does in Acts and Romans or the demonic way he does in Ephesians, the clincher is the fact that he says that these rulers “crucified the Lord”.
So who did Paul think killed Jesus? Demons? Not according to Acts 13:26-29.
Paul also makes it clear in his epistle to the Thessalonians: “You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.” (1 Thess 2:14-15)
So if there was any doubt, then what Paul says about the actions of the “rulers of this age”, should clarify that he is talking about the human rulers of the first century and not demons.
Phew! Exhausting! But thanks for tracking with me.
I took my daughter to see her first ever movie the other day – a screening of the Disney Classic, The Little Mermaid. The songs were lots of fun, the slapstick was silly and the animation was beautiful, just as I remembered back when I last saw it at the cinemas 28 years ago. But the message! Oh boy!
The message of the film to a young girl is absolutely terrible. Ariel is a rebellious, selfish and disobedient teenager who falls for a guy after just seeing his body and then sells a part of her body (her voice) in order to try to use the rest of her body to get the guy to kiss her so she can completely abandon her family forever. In the end, she gets everything she wants with absolutely no consequences for her foolish behavior. She learns nothing. She doesn’t change. She has absolutely no character arch.
The worst line in the whole film comes when Sabastian the crab, who has been charged with protecting Ariel, offers to help her get her voice back and reverse the deal Ariel has made with the Sea Witch. He looks into her immature, tear-filled, 16-year-old eyes, and says to her that if he helped her get out of her deal with the devil then she would “just be miserable for the rest of her life”. Come on! She’s 16! She’ll get over it! And what a way to re-enforce to a girl that her happiness “for the rest of her life” is wrapped up in whether she can be with a guy! When that line happened, my wife and I shook our heads and laughed at how terrible it was.
Now some may say that we shouldn’t have taken our young daughter to see such a film, but hey, we are raising her to critique these sort of messages and every day we pour into her the message that her worth, value and true happiness is found in the God who loves her and made her in His image. I’m not too worried that one movie will counteract all that.
Also (and here’s the real point of this article), there’s another interesting story thread in the movie that I can point out to her. It follows another flawed character who makes mistakes, but unlike Ariel, this character learns a lesson and actually changes. This is the story of King Triton, Ariel’s father.
A Flawed King
King Triton is not a very good king. He rules with an iron fist and when his daughter Ariel disobeys him, he responds with a violent rage that is just as immature as his daughter’s actions. But the one good thing about King Triton is he sees his folly and learns his lesson. Once he discovers that his anger has driven away his daughter, he cries out “Oh, what have I done? What have I done?”
Not only does he learn about parenting, but as I’ll explain, I saw in his story some wonderful parallels to the story of the gospel.
The Gospel According to The Little Mermaid
The first part of seeing the gospel themes in The Little Mermaid is to stop thinking of Ariel as the hero of the story who we should try to emulate. Rather, think of Ariel as a representative of humanity. Like Adam & Eve, she lives as a royal child under the rule of the king and yet she yearns for freedom. As she puts it, “Wouldn’t you think I’m a girl. a girl who has everything”, and yet she sings “I want more!” She is naturally interested in and curious about the human world, which is a good thing, but her stubbornness and arrogance leads her to disobey her father and ignore his warnings not to go to the ocean’s surface.
It is there she sees an attractive human and her immature superficiality leads her to immediately falls in love. All her healthy and natural desire for knowledge about humanity gets replaced with an intense focus on this one human. Like Eve with the apple, the Prince was “pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6) and now she was willing to reject life with her father and his kingdom in order to get what she wanted.
She goes to see Ursula, the Sea Witch, an evil character who Sebastian calls a “demon”. The parallels between Ursula and Satan are interesting. Both used to live with the King but at some point in the past both were “banished and exiled” from the kingdom. The scene between Ariel and Ursula plays out just like Genesis 3:1-7. Like Satan in the garden tempting Eve, Ursula tempts Ariel with false promises of having all her desires fulfilled. Eve bites the apple, Ariel signs the contract, and both are left naked.
The difference between Eve and Ariel is that Ariel has no shame for signing over her life to the Sea Witch. In fact, she really never feels any shame about it. It’s only when it all doesn’t work out and she’s trapped by Ursula’s contact against her that she finally says, “Daddy, sorry! I didn’t mean to!” Yeah right. Of course she meant to. That’s regret she’s feeling, not genuine repentance. Eve on the other hand (and her hubby Adam), get to that emotion much quicker. But either way, for both Eve and Ariel, it is when the King arrives that they realise their foolishness and the fact that they are completely helpless.
They both are left guilty standing before the King with a document that condemns them. A document that, as Ursula declares, is “legal, binding and completely unbreakable.” For Ariel, it is the contract that she made with Ursula. For Eve (and for all humanity), it is the record of our sin as referred to in Revelation 20:12. It’s what Paul describes in Colossians 2:14 as “the charge of our legal indebtedness”. We stand before our King, with no hope, with no appeal, with no chance of saving ourselves. Ariel is not a model for little girls to follow. She is a mirror for the human race.
The Wonderful Exchange
So, if we have no hope of saving ourselves, how then can we be saved? Well, again, The Little Mermaid tells us.
With Ariel trapped and about to sent to Ursula’s “garden”, the Sea Witch says, “The daughter of the great sea king is a very precious commodity.But I might be willing to make an exchange for someone even better.” And with that, King Triton puts his name on the contract in Ariel’s place. And with that, King Triton gives up his glory and his power and substitute’s himself for Ariel. And with that, King Triton, although innocent, bears the consequences for Ariel’s guilt.
What a perfect image of the gospel.
As the bible says, Jesus – though he was equal to God – relinquished his heavenly place to take our place on the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). He bore our sin and took the punishment that we deserved (1 Peter 2:24, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
This is what theologians call “substitutionary atonement”. Or to use less academic language, it’s what the Reformer Martin Luther called a “wonderful exchange”:
“That is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it, and fill us with it. And He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them.” – Martin Luther, Werke (Weimar, 1883), 5: 608.
And then, at the end of the story, after King Triton’s “resurrection” and the defeat of the evil Ursula, the King looks upon Ariel with mercy and kindness. Although she in no way deserves it, the King uses his power to restore her to her beloved Prince. And so, Ariel has gone through the entire story of the Bible from start to finish. She rejects the King, sins in rebellion, is trapped by her sin, needs a Saviour, is rescued from condemnation by the King taking her place, and then, just like the Bible, the story ends with a beautiful wedding and they all live happily ever after.
Maybe Not So Terrible a Message After All
In the end, I still think The Little Mermaid has a lot of problems with it. But in a weird way, I sort of do want my daughter to be like Ariel.
Not in Ariel’s stupidity, superficiality and sin. I do hope I raise her to be smarter than that.
But like Ariel did (and like I and my wife have), I want my daughter to experience the undeserved kindness of the King. In the gospel of Jesus, I want her to know the joy of the freedom, salvation and amazing grace bought by his wonderful exchange.
This year I attended the March for the Babies and had the opportunity to have some interesting discussions with some pro-choice advocates who were attending the counter-rally. Some were aggressive and didn’t want to engage, some were thoughtful and wonderful and were saddened by the aggression of others on their side.
The following is an online conversation with one lady who wanted to ask me to defend my pro-life position. At times she is pretty aggressive, but I am not posting our discussion here to critique her, and if you are offended on my behalf at any point I ask you to let it pass. I think she asked me some interesting and valid questions that all pro-life advocates should be able to answer.
So I have posted below our conversation in full. I have made some slight editing to the grammar to make it easier to read, but I have not edited the content. This is so you can see how I engage in these discussions “in real time”.
I don’t think I handled every question or accusation perfectly, but I do hope reading this will be an encouragement to you and maybe give you some tips for your online discussions in the future.
NOTE: To make this conversation easier to read, I will format the pro-choice person in Italics and my comments will be in Bold.
I was wondering if I could ask you why you’re pro-life? As in, pro-life of a clump of cells, not pro-life of all the women who’ve died because of anti-abortion laws. do you feel like you have blood on your hands? or do you just ignore that part of it
I’d also be happy to discuss my position on this issue. But do you want it to be productive or are you just wanting to vent?
As a staunch pro-choicer and also (believe it or not) devout Christian, I would like to know where your beliefs come from. I can only imagine it to be misinformation and brainwashing. I genuinely want to know why.
As a devout Christian then, I encourage you to start from a more generous position. Presuming my ignorance or brainwashing or starting with an attack is not the best way to invite someone into open respectful dialogue.
I’m not attacking you, the criminalisation of abortion directly causes gruesome deaths of women and I wasn’t sure you had made that connection yet.
I’m sure you know I could throw the same accusation on the pro-choice side. I’m not really interested in lobbing hand grenades at each other though.
I can’t logically find a reason why someone would hold your beliefs unless they were misinformed, ignorant, or hated women. if you have a fourth option, please let me know. i haven’t had one person give me a good reason to be pro-life. I invite you to do so. I don’t think I’m being rude or aggressive at all.
It is a very valid concern to worry about the women who may try to harm themselves and their child if they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy and feel that abortion is their only option. I do care deeply about women in that situation.
I think any legal prevention of abortion HAS to be accompanied by a huge increase of financial, emotional and practical for women in that situation. I have personally donated thousands to crisis pregnancy programs and I would do more.
Anyone who wants to simply ban abortion and do nothing to support women in need, I think is a hypocrite.
It is a hypocritical standpoint to have, to completely disregard the lives of living human beings. But I would like to know why you think abortion should be illegal in the first place.
Well, I think there are two angles to this issue – the principle and the practical.
The principle is about whether abortion is right or wrong. Should it happen in any situation?
The practical is about whether should be legal or not and whether there should be any limitations or restrictions.
They are two different issues.
You are asking about the second issue, the practical.
I think that is a trickier issue to work out how best the law should relate to abortion.
But my premise for all my thoughts on the practical side is based on the principle side.
Does that make sense?
Ok so if you want me to ask more specific questions… Why do you think abortion is wrong?
And secondly, why do you think your belief is important enough to literally take away legal autonomy over someone’s body.
Thirdly, have you heard of a man called Michel Foucault?
Philosopher right? I’ve heard the name but couldn’t tell you anything about him
French philosopher. He has written a lot about what we call biopower, the power a government has over it’s citizens bodies.
And regardless of your opinion on abortion, I think fundamentally, to take away the right to autonomy over my body through law is very VERY wrong.
And I think that not only do you have to argue why abortion is wrong, and then why your opinion on why its wrong is so important that it should be made law, but you also have to argue that governments should have power and control over people’s bodies.
I do understand that. I actually believe in the general principle of bodily autonomy, though I think it has to have limitations when it comes to how it affects others.
If you’re busy you don’t have to reply right now. But I think it’s fair to ask you to answer all of that.
They are great and fair questions to ask a pro-life person.
Having an abortion does not affect anyone other than the person having an abortion.
Well, this may be our big point of difference, but I also believe that it effects the one being aborted and that is an important factor.
And here is why I hold the belief that anti-abortion protestors such as yourself have beliefs rooted in misinformation.
Have you had a look at the REAL science behind an abortion and the stages of pregnancy? because the anti-abortion and “pro-life” movement are renowned for using falsified statistics and factoids.
Happy to look at any scientific evidence you may have that you think I am ignorant of.
I’d also like to pitch to you a hypothetical scenario to see how you answer it.
It isn’t to catch you out or trick you or anything like that. Just a thought experiment.
I’m happy with thought experiments, though you’ve asked several questions and I haven’t really had too much opportunity to answer them.
Maybe we’ll stick with one question at a time. Happy for you to pick which.
Ok if you’d like more time to answer your questions, I can sit back until you let me know you’re completely finished, and then I’ll read through it all and let you know how I feel.
Well, how bout I just start with my basic premise.
Four years ago, my wife and I attended the March for the Babies. This is us on that day.
That very morning we had just learnt from our doctor that my wife was pregnant with our daughter, who we would later name Dorothy.
Last Saturday, all three of us were back at the March with our daughter Dorothy.
I believe that my daughter has the right to be free from violence, free from harm and free to live out her bodily autonomy.
Where we differ is that I believe that was just as true of my daughter four years ago as it is today.
Is that all?
That is the basic premise.
I believe all women should be free from violence and harm.
I believe all human beings, no matter what race, age, gender, sexual orientation, social status, location or stage of development, have the right to life and to be free from violence.
My opposition to abortion is due to the fact that the human is harmed in the process of ending the pregnancy. If there was any way of not harming the human in the womb in order to end the pregnancy before the time of gestation is naturally complete, then I would be very supportive of that. I do not wish to force women to carry the baby to term and would support any alternative to that.
Do you think an embryo is a human?
Can I ask what you mean by “human”? Are you meaning scientifically is an embryo a member of the species homo sapien, or do you mean something more philosophical, like is an embryo a person with rights?
Ok let me pose a scenario to you and you’ll understand what I mean.
You’re in a fertility clinic. Why isn’t important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help. They’re in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labelled “1000 Viable Human Embryos”. The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one.
Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no “C.” “C” means you all die.
Ah, Patrick S. Tomlinson’s famous argument from October last year.
That’s not an answer.
I think you’re trying to find a way to theoretically work your way out of this problem instead of admitting that an embryo isn’t a person. And a zygote is not a person either. Between a literal clump of cells, and an actual human being, the human being is more important. every time.
I don’t think, every time.
Can I tweak the analogy a little?
No you can’t.
I’d like you to answer the question as I posed it, please. I think the scenario isn’t hiding any missing nuance. it is very straight forward in comparing the human-status of a child and an embryo.
Firstly, I am happy to acknowledge that most people’s moral instinct in the midst of the fire is to save the screaming 5 year old whose face they can see, rather than the embryos that they only see the label of. That doesn’t really prove anything. Our moral instincts are not always correct.
If you will allow me to present another thought experiment, I will explain how.
So you would choose the 1000 embryos over the 5 year old child.
I don’t really know what I would do in the midst of a fire if I didn’t know what was going to happen. If you’re asking me to choose between the two now, in a cold calculated way, you are basically presenting a version of the old “trolley” moral dilemma.
1. Would you choose to save the life of one person or one thousand people, if you could only save one option, otherwise everyone died?
2. Would you choose to save the life of a 5 year oldchild or one thousand embryos in the same circumstances?
My wife and I are dealing at the moment with infertility. If for example, there was a random 5 year old child and only say, two embryos on the table, but they were my wife and my children, then my moral instinct would probably be to save the embryos.
When you are given an ultimatum and you only can save one of two choices. Just because you choose one over the other does not in any way prove that the other is not a human.
For example, if my 3 year old daughter was in one room and 1,000 adults were in another, you can be sure I’ll probably be saving my daughter. That doesn’t mean the 1,000 men are not human to me.
That’s why I think Tomlinson’s thought experiment is clever, but it doesn’t prove what he claims it proves.
Thank you for proving to me that my original premise was correct.
Anti-abortion and pro-lifers beliefs are entirely rooted in either misinformation or hatred of women.
You don’t seem like you hate women.
But you are very misinformed and have a skewed view of what constitutes as a human being.
Great topic. So how do you constitute a human being?
The normal way. With science and logic. A living breathing fully formed human being.
I do actually think there’s a point of pregnancy where a fetus is fully formed, and in that case abortion, if it causes pain to the fetus, should only happen in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, or if the baby isn’t going to make it to full term anyway.
But this whole argument about ‘late stage abortion’ is utter crap because it literally doesn’t happen other than when the woman’s life is at risk, or the baby isn’t going to make it to full term.
What would you do if your wife found out that if she didn’t get an abortion, she would die giving birth?
Sorry, I want to understand you clearly. I agree science and logic is very important.
You said “a living breathing fully formed human being”.
Does that mean that it needs to be breathing?
And fully formed.
If you could c-section the fetus prematurely, and it could live outside of the womb on its own or with a bit of medical assistance.
Well, that’s lots of different things to constitute a human being.
No it’s not.
Can we list them so I am clear on your position?
Living, breathing, fully formed.
Do you consider a child in the womb to be breathing at any point?
I define “fully formed” as able to live outside the womb on its own. But again, that’s just me. I don’t think that should be part of legislation.
Ok, so in your definition fully formed means fully formed to a specific goal (ie, to be able to survive out of the womb).
It means fully formed.
Simple as that, not that complicated.
Because you know, the skull isn’t fully formed when they are born. Human brains aren’t fully formed til they are in their 20’s.
You know pro-lifers brains never fully form.
C’mon. Was asking for it.
Happy to end the conversation if that’s the road you wish to engage on.
You can’t say that wasn’t a good one.
Fine. I have a thick enough skin. I just am not interested in patronising each other.
So instead of patronising me, you can just admit that my definition of ‘fully formed’ is fine.
And that all you’re doing is trying to poke holes where there are none.
Well, I disagree.
I think your definition of “fully formed” is only defined around one purpose.
There are lots about a newborn that is not fully formed.
Instead of countering my argument, you are countering language.
And if you’re going to start picking apart the English language, you may as well admit that you have nothing to say about my actual argument
Don’t patronise ME when you know exactly what I mean
Otherwise I’m not interested in continuing this discussion either.
I feel sorry for your daughter. I hope you never have another daughter, I truly truly hope you never have another daughter. and I hope your daughter now finds someone to guide her, properly, when she’s old enough to understand these things.
My position is that all humans are equal and equally deserving of a right to life. I think the quality that makes all humans equal can not be a sliding scale such as viability outside of the womb.
Consider this, if one child is removed from the womb and is healthy and so is able to survive, you would define them as human. But if another child is removed at the same age, but is too sick to survive or has some abnormality that means it can’t survive, by your definition that child is not human.
You are defining humanity by one’s ability (to survive).
I’m sure you don’t do that with humans at any other age.
(THE NEXT DAY)
I am sorry you believed you were being patronised during our discussion and felt you had to end it.
I definitely wasn’t patronising you and if you feel I wasn’t addressing your actual argument then I’d be happy if you wanted me to try.
I also understand if you aren’t interested in that.
Facebook conversations, even when not done publicly, are ripe for misunderstandings and offence unless both sides approach it with a lot of generosity of spirit.
I must give acknowledgement to Josh Brahm, a brilliant pro-life apologist and educator from the Equal Rights Institute in the US. I listened to THIS TALK a day or so before having this conversation and it definitely helped me engage in a more thoughtful and level-headed way.