Saturday, April 28, 2007

Is a fertilized human cell a person?

I had an heretical thought the other day (heretical from the Pro-Life standpoint). The Bible claims in Lev. 17:11ff that "the life of a creature is in the blood".

Could that imply that a fertilized human cell does not become a living being until a blood cell forms in the growing embryo?

On the one hand, I'm well aware that from the moment of conception, nothing new is added to the growing embryo except nutrition.

On the other hand, sometimes in the early stages of embryonic development, the cell mass can divide and become identical twins (or triplets, etc). So, is the single fertilized egg one individual, or several?

If what makes a person a person is a human spirit, then:

1. there were two (or more) human spirits in the original single fertilized cell,


2. the spirit is being divided when the cell is divided into multiples


3. a second (or third, etc) spirit is being added to the newly-cleaved second (or third, etc) individual(s)


4. the spirit does not enter the embryo until sometime after differentiation begins.

If, on the other hand, what makes a person a person is the blood, then a fertilized egg is not a person until later in the developmental process.

I see two significant conclusions in such a case:

1) Very early abortions (within hours, not days) would not be murder.

2) Embryonic stem-cell research would not be murder.

I believe we should err on the side of caution, and on the side of Life, and not jump to these conclusions; my logic might be faulty, and the data is certainly sketchy.

It's of note that the embryo ceases to be divisible into twins long before the first blood cell develops. This seems a fatal objection to my idea above, and is further reason why we should err on the side of caution and treat a fertilized human cell as a person from conception onward.

Another consideration is that a person can be clinically dead while still having blood circulated by machines. Does that circulating blood keep the body alive without a human inhabiting it? If so, then the blood is not the determining factor of a person's life. Or perhaps the human is still in the body, and we just can't perceive that person any longer.

In short, I have no answers. But I found the thought interesting.

Christians Can't Have Secular Jobs

Rob Bell, on page 85 of his book "Velvet Elvis", makes the observation that
... it is impossible for a Christian to have a secular job. If you follow Jesus and you are doing what you do in his name, then it is no longer secular work; it's sacred.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Old Law is not the same as the Old Testament

Last night as I was leaving campus I bemoaned to myself how I didn't want to go to church, but it actually turned out to be a good thing, I think.

It seemed to me that the class instructor was confusing the Mosaic Covenant with the Old Testament in toto. I was able to speak up and point out that the collection of books we refer to as the "Old Testament" is not equivalent to the "old covenant". I had tried making this point some months earlier, but I don't think anyone "got it" then. My comment spurred some conversation, and this time I got the impression that people got it. The teacher said he was going to have to do some research on it.

So late last night I put together a few notes and sent them to him to help start his research:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Kent West

There were lots of covenants in the Old Testament; the Mosaic Covenant is merely the main focus of the OT.

Some Biblical covenants are between God and the Earth, such as when he stipulates that the Earth will never be flooded again.

Some covenants are between God and vegetation, such as when he stipulates grass to reproduce after its own kind.

There are covenants between God and nations, God and individuals, God and himself (Gen 1:26), God and Satan (Job 1), man and man, etc etc etc. A covenant that would make for a great 5-minute Wednesday evening topic, me thinks, in our porn-infested world, is the one that Job made with his eyes.

The covenant that God made with Adam and Eve, and with land-dwelling animals, to eat vegetation but not meat, was not only for them, but also for their descendants. After the Flood, when most parties to that agreement had perished, God established a new covenant with both humans and animals which morphed, modified, replaced that first covenant; the new covenant allowed eating of meat. There were also other stipulations to the covenant, including the rainbow:
And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; .... And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: 15And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. -- Gen 9:9ff

Note that if God is to be believed about the rainbow, this covenant is still in effect. It has not been nailed to the Cross.

There are quite a lot of other covenants, but I'll stop with just one more, the covenant God made with Abram.

Paul, in Galatians 3:17 writes, "What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise."

Here he makes a distinction between the covenant God made with Abram, and the covenant God made 430 years later with Moses. He also makes it clear that the Mosaic covenant did not nullify the Abrahamic covenant. He continues on to make the point that we are no longer under the Mosaic "tutor" (vs 24-25), but that we have become heirs according to the Abrahamic covenant (v 29).

Just as the original vegetarian-friendly covenant was morphed into or replaced by another carnivorian-friendly covenant, the Abrahamic covenant was morphed into the New Covenant of Jesus.

The point is that the Mosaic Covenant is not equal to the Old Testament; it is only a sub-part, although a dominant sub-part. So it is not correct to say that the "Old Testament" has been done away with; it's only the Mosaic Law portion of the OT that has been done away with. Other portions still stand, either in their original form (the Rainbow covenant) or in modified form.

At least that's how I understand things. But if I've learned anything in the past few years, it's that I'm a lot more ignorant of the things of God than when I was a teenager and had all the answers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Rob Bell's "Velvet Elvis"

There's some good discussion on Rob Bell's book , "Velvet Elvis" over at

I'm glad to have found this discussion; it's helping me to "cope" with Bell's writing style.


Another couple of interesting items from Bell's book:

He says that the first three miracles recorded in the book of John were direct swipes at the three major gods of Asia Minor: Dionysus, who turns water to wine; Asclepius, who is the god of healing; and Demeter, who is the goddess of bread.

He also says that the reference in Timothy to women being saved in childbirth was a reference to the goddess having a shrine in Timothy's home town of Ephesus, Artemis, who saved women from dying in childbirth. With half the child-bearing women dying, Artemis is essentially labeled a fraud in comparison to Jesus.

When I originally read these snippets, I found them intriguing; now after having found the discussion mentioned above, I find myself less accepting of Bell's claims. Still, they are interesting claims.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Why Gambling is Wrong

So what if I bet my friend a coffee that I can make three trash-can baskets in a roll? The price of a coffee is not going to hurt anyone.

So what if I put a dollar down for a lottery ticket? Who's it going to hurt?

In both cases, it won't really hurt anyone. But what's the motivation?

The only way I can win is for you to lose. Therefore, my motivation (assuming I want to win) is for you to lose.

Hardly the epitome of the Golden Rule, now, is it?

He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.
-- Jesus, Luke 16:10

Armed Christians

The preacher made a good point today, I think.

Some Christians believe that we should not take up / carry weapons for self-defense, but Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, asked the group if they had any swords. They found two, and he said that was enough.

He wasn't going out to start a war, or even as an army, or he would have wanted all of them armed; but he did have enough weapons in the group to act as a deterrent to attack from ne'er-do-wells.

I don't know exactly what his intention was in asking for swords (self-defense, object-lesson of some sort, or what), but he obviously didn't have a problem with his followers walking around armed. He did however point out that an attitude anxious to use a weapon will likely lead to death.

How Are the Goats?

Dad's goats are having kids left and right; over the past month he's had two sets of triplets, and two sets of twins. The latest set of twins, born today, I'm afraid may not survive. Her mama was pretty young to be having babies, and isn't letting them nurse. Dad and I went out tonight to put Mama and the twins in the barn by themselves, out of the wind and sort of out of the cold. Babies just weren't finding Mama's milk, so Dad mixed up a milk concoction and injected a little into the babies' mouths to whet their appetite, and then sprayed the rest on the Mama's teats. I had to straddle Mama to prevent her from running off while the babies hunted down dinner; they found a working spigot (although barely; the other one seems dry), but by the time we had let Mama loose and had gotten out of the area, the oldest twin was still interested, but the youngest, spindliest, weakest, was off in a corner by itself. As are all things, their survival is in God's hands.

Jesus the Diaper-Changer

While at Easter we tend to think of the suffering and/or risen Jesus, and at Christmas of the Baby Jesus, we seldom think of him as diaper-changing Jesus. Yet he was the first of Mary's children, and he had both brothers and sisters – Matt 13:54-56 – and I'm confident that he fulfilled the role any older sibling would fill: babysitting, feeding, playing with, singing to, bathing his younger siblings, and yes, changing their diapers. While on Earth, He was one of Us.

It Snowed!

Easter weekend, it snowed all day Saturday. It didn't stick very well. Still, it's fairly rare for it to snow here, and even rarer for it to snow in April (although this is twice in the past five years or so that it's done so).

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Why Modern Psychology Fails

From Matthew 12:43ff.

You can go see your psychiatriast every day for years and clean out your demons, but unless you get filled up with a good spirit, you'll just wind up worse off than before.

A non-Christian approach to psychology/psychiatry is worse than no approach at all.

Judgment to Come for the Already-Dead

In reading Matthew 12:41ff, it struck me that Jesus made it clear that the long-dead inhabitants of the long-dead city of Ninevah would one day experience a judgment.

In other words, dead people don't stay dead.

The second thing I noticed from this passage is that in the Great Day of Judgment, we are just as likely to give testimony for or against others as others are to testify for or against us.

I'd hate to be Hitler on that day.

Proof of God

In Matthew 12:38ff, the Pharisees asked Jesus for proof of God's working in him. Jesus responded by saying that the only real proof would be his death, burial, and resurrection.

I reckon that holds true for today also; if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then his teachings are irrelevant. But if he was raised from the dead, then he is who he said he is.

This seems to me to be the crux of conversion of Muslims, Hindus, Jews, atheists.

Was Jesus physically brought back to life after being executed? That is the question. (And I believe the answer to be "Yes".)

A House Divided

The middle section of Matthew chapter 12 records a discourse by Jesus when he has been accused of tossing out demons by the power of Satan.

Jesus' response is basically that a house divided against itself can not stand, implying that Satan would not undo his own work in order to make people think he's good.

In order to toss out demons, the exorcist must be more powerful than the one controlling the demons:
How in the world do you think it's possible in broad daylight to enter the house of an awake, able-bodied man and walk off with his possessions unless you tie him up first?
Many in my church culture see the "holy roller" activity, speaking in tongues, casting out of demons, etc, of some church groups and denounce it as "christian in name only but actually of the devil". However, if -- and you'll notice that "if" is italicized -- if people actually change during these exorcisms from alcoholics to former alcoholics, or from wife-beaters into wife-nurturers, or from asthmatics to free-breathers, has not the strong man been tied up?

I have seen a few indications that at least some of these "healings" actually take place. I've seen many other indications that some of these "healings" are emotionally-driven through psychosomatic mechanisms. (I've never seen evidence of a physical healing, such as the sudden eradication of cancer, or the replacement of a missing limb, or the reversal of aging, etc. I'm not saying it's never happened, but I'm highly suspicious.)

The point is, even if it's a psychosomatic healing, has not the strong man been tied up?

And if the strong man has been tied up, who are we to declare this activity to be of the devil?

That seems to me to have been Jesus' point.

It scares me that so many in my church brotherhood "know" all the answers, and judge outsiders as being stubborn or intellectually lazy or lacking a love of the Truth. "We" have the Truth because "we" love the Truth; other religious groups are lost and going to hell because they don't love the Truth enough to think and believe like "we" do.

And yet Jesus says to look at their fruit - are those groups nicer than "we" are? Are they more God-minded than "we"? Do they do more to eradicate poverty and drug-use in society than "we" do?

Suffice it to say that I would hate to be judged by my brethren on that Great Day -- I'm neither good enough nor doctrinally pure enough in their eyes to pass muster. And part of that is apparently because I don't "love the Truth" enough to have found it as they've found it. (And that's true -- I've just this past year seen a darkness in my deepest parts that I wasn't really aware of -- I'm not the Truth Seeker I thought I was; I'm the Me Seeker, selfish to the core, sinful to the point of being blind to my own sin and to my own self-deception of thinking I'm a Truth Seeker when I'm really not.)

I Don't Get It

In Matthew 12, the Pharisees accuse the disciples of Jesus of breaking the Sabbath rules. Jesus responds by pointing out times in the Tanahk (Old Testament) when people broke the "Law" and were not held guilty for it.

Yet the Pharisees could have (and maybe did, just without a record of it) responded by mentioning other cases in which people broke the "Law" and were punished severely for it, even to the point of death -- the cases of Uzziah and of Nadab and Abihu come quickly to my mind.

So, can we break the law when the situation requires, or not? Or perhaps it's only the Son of Man (Jesus, presumably) that can get away with breaking the law?

I'm clueless -- I don't get it.

Blessed are the Unsophisticated

One of Jesus' prayers, from Matthew 11:25ff:
Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You've concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that's the way you like to work.
Yikes! I had no idea I was a sophisticate, so it must be that I'm a know-it-all, because I sure don't understand the ways of God.