Archive for November, 2011

Michael Gove to send copy of King James Bible to all English schools

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

By Jeevan Vasagar, Guardian

Education secretary will write a brief foreword in special edition marking 400th anniversary of its publication

Michael Gove, the education secretary, is to send a 400th anniversary edition of the King James Bible to every school in England.

Every state school in England is to receive a new copy of the King James Bible from the government – with a brief foreword by Michael Gove, the education secretary, to mark the 400th anniversary of its translation. In a move intended to help every pupil access Britain’s cultural heritage, every primary and secondary school will be sent a new copy of the 1611 translation by next Easter.

The initiative has been criticised by secular campaigners as a waste of money. The National Secular Society said that schools were already “awash with Bibles”. It urged Gove to send out a copy of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species instead.

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10 steps to better preaching

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011
Michael Kellahan
November 30th, 2011

How do you progress as a preacher? Here are 9 quick tips…

1. Prepare more. Obvious, isn’t it – but does your diary reflect it? It takes a certain discipline to be reading now for next year’s preaching, or committing to less in a week in order to commit more to reading the word. The longer you go on as a preacher the easier it is to ‘knock out a sermon’ faster or microwave something you prepared earlier. There will be weeks like that – but it’s not a good way to be feeding the flock.

2. Leave out the boring bits.  Yes, there are boring bits and they are the fault of the preacher not the bible. Be ruthless and drop the stuff that is dull. Suddenly you’ll find your sermons are shorter and more interesting.

3. Don’t wait till Sunday. As you work on the passage try things out as you meet with people during the week. My men’s breakfast group and some guys I meet with 1 to 1 are better than a sounding board for the sermon as work in progress – they’ll often hear ideas they have on the passage coming back at them on Sunday!

4. Ditch notes – sermons should be spoken and heard not written and read. Any preacher really can easily learn to go into the pulpit with an open bible and a very brief outline and speak for 20 minutes.

5. Speak to the people who aren’t there yet – I think I’ve stolen this one from Tim Keller. If you just preach to the choir then they’ll never have confidence to invite others or be taught how to communicate the truth to their friends family and neighbours.

6. Have an argument – put up some of the alternative belief systems to the text that people may hold – show how God’s word shows a better way and is a better belief. Arguments are always more interesting and forces people to think about where they stand.

7. Speak to the people who are there –  what needs to be said differently to reach this particular gathering of people? Are you connecting with the literacy, age, learning styles, special needs, cultural backgrounds, life questions of those that are there? The quickest test of this is asking how different the early morning seniors sermon is from the family sermon. Preaching the same passage to different congregations demands a different talk.

8. Avoid trite application – The congregation here know when I’ve prayerfully sat under the Word of God and it has rebuked and challenged me in concrete ways. Think carefully through how the particular text challenges our understanding of God, his world, ourselves, our church and its mission, our city etc.  Don’t try & say everything but show how this part of God’s word speaks to us.

9. Talk about Jesus every week – we are here to preach Christ crucified. Our sermons must therefore sound different from those of the synagogue.

10. Listen to your own podcast – the pain will be worth it. There is no faster way to hear what you actually sound like and see what needs to change.

Christians contemplate their future in secular Europe

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011


From Christian Post

Christians have been told they must find a framework for promoting their beliefs if they are to confront the challenge of aggressive secularisation and the erosion of Christian values across all spheres of life.

Opening the Beyond Individualism conference on Friday, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali said it was “amazing” that a Christian nurse in Britain today could be suspended for offering to pray for a patient, when it was Christians who had set in place many of the institutions and public services now taken for granted.

He warned that the Christian values inherent in Europe’s heritage have been eroded by a process of “aggressive secularisation” that Christians must understand if they are to challenge it.

While politicians offer “thin” values like respect and tolerance, the bishop said such “political mantras” were “not enough for society to be cohesive”.

Instead, Christianity presents European nations with a means to move beyond the individualism they have come to be characterised by, he argued.

“To have individualism without any sense of mutuality is very damaging for society,” he said.

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Rot from without, decay from within

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

November  2011 

by A S Haley

Let me say at the outset that I began this blog in 2008 because I believed that there were things going on in my Church — the Episcopal Church (USA), of which I had been a faithful member from baptism — which required broader attention from those potentially most affected. Specifically, I believed that events ever since 2003 needed attention from those lay people in the Church who might not be able to interpret the legal niceties being urged in the various court and disciplinary proceedings which had been brought in the Church’s name up to that time, but who could, as traditional Episcopalians, appreciate that not all of the legal positions being taken by their Church were, shall we say, “kosher”.

Ever since my first post, I have focused on the constitutional and canonical violations by those at the head of the Church — generally the steps they took to remove from the Church’s ministry those with whom the leadership disagreed on matters such as same-sex marriage, and to alienate the Church from the vast majority of the Anglican Communion. If you are an Episcopalian, I ask that you put all of the hype which you may have read about the Episcopal Church (USA, that is) being “in the forefront” of the movement to recognize same-sex “marriages” into the context of what I shall now relate.

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convictions about truth, the authority
of Scripture, and the centrality of Christ,
His Spirit and His Word. After all, the core
beliefs of both Shofar as a charismatic renewal
church and Orthodox Anglicanism
are Evangelical. Both men were “eager to
maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond
of peace” and “to equip the saints for the
work of the ministry for building up the Body
of Christ…”
With an urgency to see the Kingdom
established, the men acknowledged that
in a broken world they would need to fight
side by side in God’s army.
In the years since the providential meeting
of these two friends in faith, the Anglican
Communion has been thrust into a worldwide
crisis over the position of Scripture as
the final authority for both doctrine and
morality. The Fellowship of Confessing
Anglicans (FCA) was formed in response
to the crisis by Orthodox Anglican leaders
from across the world and Father Gavin
was appointed as Secretary of FCA Southern
Africa in 2009.
The so-called ‘Anglican Crisis,’ which
has been well documented in previous
issues of JOY! Magazine and has crystallised
around moral issues, continues to
be about the authority of Scripture and
whether God, through His Word, has the
right to tell us what is morally acceptable
or not (Biblical Christianity), or whether
people have the right to decide for themselves
(Secular Humanism).
Was this the battle that God had intended
these two men, representing two spiritual
streams, to engage in? Their ‘coincidental’
meeting had been orchestrated by God
years before and His reason for doing
so was becoming apparent. Shofar has
always been eager to stand with those
who stand for the Gospel, and that meant
amongst others, standing with the FCA in
the battle for the Bible.
In light of this, both leaders have identified
the need to deepen the Theological training
of Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors
and to re-establish the centrality of the Bible
in the Theological training of Anglican
clergy, as priorities. For this reason they
have jointly launched the Stellenbosch
Theological Institute (STI) as an academic
training institute which endeavours to be
Bible-based, contextually relevant, and
academically excellent.
So, like peanut butter and jam, these
two streams seem to work well together
in the form of STI, drawing from the established
and the emerging.
Historically it has always appeared that
the Traditional and the Charismatic
churches have been at odds with
each other because of theological and liturgical
differences. Yet with the proliferation
of liberalism in and out of the Church, Christians
with a Biblical worldview and correct
theological application of the Word of God
are uniting – from all sides of the denominational
An example of this on our doorstep
would be the new found relationship between
two significant role players in the
Body of Christ, who have partnered together
to form a Bible-based Theological Institute
in the heart of South African Liberaldom.
JOY! found out more from the stakeholders,
extracted below.
“There are many combinations in life that
just work and seem to form a better product
in the end: peanut butter and jam, salt and
pepper, boerewors and pap. Yet somehow
the Anglican Church and the Shofar Movement
don’t immediately jump to mind
when considering successful synergy.
So how then can an Evangelical Charismatic
pastor from Shofar and a priest
from an established Traditional Anglican
Church see eye to eye on anything? We’re
talking chalk and cheese! But add a Mighty
Lord, two intuitive, God-fearing wives and
a prophetic word – and you’ve got yourself
a great friendship that has led to significant
and strategic things.
It all started several years ago when pastor
Fred May received a prophetic word during
a Sunday service in Stellenbosch that
the Lord was going to send them ‘unlikely
bedfellows’ or ministry partners. In another
part of the Cape, Father Gavin Mitchell a local
Anglican priest, was experiencing what
can only be described as persecution in the
politics of his local church. Disillusioned and
disappointed, Gavin contemplated moving
to the Church of England or leaving the ministry
entirely. Eventually he accepted a posting
to another church to relieve the pressures
of ‘local church politics’.
At this time, Gavin and Fred’s wives “coincidently”
met each other. Lynn and Lucille,
both God-fearing women, served as the
catalyst for their husbands’ friendship.
As the relationship deepened, both Fred
and Gavin realised that despite their different
ministry environments, they both
laboured for the same Almighty God and
that the areas of agreement far outweighed
the points of disagreement. They shared
Despite the onslaught of liberalism, the Lord is growing
His Church in unique ways – seeing the Orthodox uniting
with the Pentecostal – all for His cause and His Bride.
—by Hennie Swart and Jenny Karsen
46 JOY ! MAGAZINE JOY! Magazine 47
AN unlikely marriage
The seismic shift in the Christian Church within denominations waging a war of worldviews, has seen the most surprising
development of a Pastor and a Priest partner together to re- store sound Biblical Theological Training within their ranks.
• Biography: Fred and his wife
Lucille founded Shofar Church
in Stellenbosch in 1992. He has
been committed to ministry
establishment since his high
school years. The dynamic of
cultural and generational integration
has always been a mark
of Shofar’s ministry where the
focus areas are disciple making,
leadership development
and church planting. At present
there are 29 Shofar churches in
South Africa and abroad – besides
scores of missions partner
churches planted in
Africa and Asia. Fred and
Lucille have two sons,
Stephan and Matthew.
• Contact details:
Fred May
• Position: Secretary of Fellowship
of Confessing Anglicans –
Southern Africa. Director of the
Anglican Studies programme
of the STI. An Anglican priest
presently serving in the Cape
• Qualifications: BSc (Wits), Dip
TH (St Paul’s). 26 years ministry
experience in the Anglican
Church of Southern Africa
• Comments about The Stellenbosch
Theological Institute: “This
joint initiative for training is one
of the most exciting developments
for the Church for more
than 50 years. For two such
different traditions to work to
provide church planting and
mission focussed leaders for our
churches is truly of God.”
Gavin Mitchell
The STI draws on the best of the old and the new, the established
and the emerging, the staying power of the traditional
and the propagating capacity of the renewal.

Want to be a revolutionary? Learn to give thanks.

Sunday, November 27th, 2011
Michael Jensen
November 2011

Have we forgotten how to give thanks? Thanksgiving is the potentially the most revolutionary thing you can do against the destructive greed of fundamentalist materialism and capitalism, because it recognises that the source of things is not the system, but the loving hand of God.

Qu.116: Why is prayer necessary for Christians? Because it is the chief part of the gratitude which God demands of us, and because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit only to those who with heartfelt sighings unceasingly ask and thank Him for them.
Heidelberg Catechism 1563

1.  An impossibility in the Christian life?
How could we ever thank him who made us and redeemed us? It seems presumptive that our thanks could ever be an adequate response to that we have received in Christ. But that is because we tend to lapse back into thinking of divine-human relations a operating according to an exchange economy – which is the way the world works. Human gratitude could never be the response which triggers the acceptance of God, or which forms a return of grace in some way.

Properly understood, thanksgiving in prayer is the appropriate response to grace. Since faith is merely a taking hold of the promises of God, thanksgiving could never be more than this. Faith and thanksgiving are linked in just this way in the story of the tenth, Samaritan leper who alone returns to Jesus in thanks and to whom Jesus says ‘your faith has healed you’. (Luke 17:12-18). The story is as much an indictment on the nine, Israelite lepers who were ungrateful as it is a celebration of the gratitude of the Samaritan.

To thank God is obviously to act as He so kindly and liberally invites and demands, and therefore simply to come to Him as suppliants with our needs.
Karl Barth (Church Dogmatics III.iv.99)

2. The antitype of gratitude: Israel in the desert
The experience of Israel in the desert illustrates for us the very reverse of the right response to the redemption wrought by Yhwh. If they are condemned for anything, it is for the sin of ingratitude. They forgot the blessings that they had received at his hand. They grumbled about his provision for them of food and drink. They complained about his invisibility and lack of immediacy. From this sin we may perhaps learn its opposite. We too live between Egypt and the promised land – and much we experience challenges the goodness of God. Like praise, the acts of thanksgiving remembers and rehearses the great deeds of God, appreciative of the blessings that he showers upon us and turning us to him in hope. In thanksgiving, the pray-er not only retells the great deeds of God: she recalls receiving the benefits of them for herself. As it turns out, Paul identifies a lack of thanks as crucial to the spiritual blindness of the human race as a whole in Romans 1:20-21:

20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse;  21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.

3. The Psalms and thanksgiving
The thank offerings commanded as part of the sacrificial system (Lev 7:11-16) are, it could be suggested, designed to ensure that Israel did not forget to give thanks again. Whatever the case, the Psalms are overflowing with thankfulness to God. Some twenty or so Psalms enjoin Israel to thank the Lord:

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.  2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble  3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.(Psalm 107:1-3).

Once again we need to ponder the relevance of the Psalms for the Christian life – they articulate the pattern of prayerful response to the grace of God.

Thanking God and glorifying him belong together.
Wolfhart Pannenberg (Systematic Theology III.208)

4. Jesus gives thanks
At several moments in Jesus’ life he gave thanks to his Father. Most often he did this over food – at the feeding of the five thousand, and at the Last Supper. Once again, there is in this receiving of food a counter to the ungratefulness of the Exodus generation for God’s provision for food. There is also a pointer to the significance of food as a symbol of God’s gift of the body of the substitute. Jesus also thanks the Father for having heard him (John 11:41) and for the paradoxical miracle of the revelation of the divine mysteries (Matt 11:25).

That the Son thanks the Father shows grace and thanksgiving to be a part of the divine life itself. Jesus’ prayer life, as the exemplary human worshipper, features thanksgiving, even though the model prayer he offers his disciple does not.

5. Early Christian prayer
Despite this lack of thanks in the Lord’s prayer, the motif of thanksgiving is ubiquitous in the prayers of the early church. Paul especially cannot pray without giving thanks. Paul wants all requests to God to be made with thanksgiving (Phil 4:6) and that unceasing prayer redound with thanks (1 Thess 5:18). Gratitude for God’s saving action in Christ gives Christian prayer its context. Already as creatures we owe thanks to God (Rom 1:21); now in the power of the Spirit of Sonship we are able to thank the Father as we truly ought. Further, Paul’s prayers of thanks repeatedly mention the work of God in other Christians as God’s grace to him.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men.
We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And we beseech you, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

General Thanksgiving, Book of Common Prayer (1662)

Global South Anglican Bishops Feel Strain of Western Liberal Intrusion

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

CAPA homogeneity challenged by western money, personnel and communications

By David W. Virtue

There is a growing determination by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consort with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, that they can divide the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) bishops by exploiting poverty and the need for money to wedge pansexuality into an otherwise solid phalanx of African homogeneity.

CAPA’s underlying alliances are as follows:

Solidly GAFCON-Nigeria, West Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Egypt/Middle East

May appear soft but truly behind GAFCON-Sudan, Indian Ocean

Solidly aligned with TEC/Canterbury-Southern Africa

With or moving toward TEC/Canterbury-Congo, Burundi, Central Africa

Virtueonline has been told that the Global South, which is orthodox, faithful and evangelical, and views Western Anglicanism as progressive, pansexual and revisionist, is having dangled before it the carrot of money, personnel and communications for the stick of homosexual acceptance in the name of inclusivity and cultural diversity.

“One should expect to see the leadership of CAPA move away from Nigeria and its leader Archbishop Nicholas Okoh (who is no Akinola) and towards Archbishop Eliud Wabukala. The strength is [now] in East Africa,” VOL was told. Central Africa, which was solidly orthodox under former Anglo-Catholic Archbishop Bernard Malango, may now be lost and with it, Congo and Burundi.

What this means is that Canterbury and the Episcopal Church are going to take advantage of CAPA’s loss of virtual unanimity. In the past, the orthodox elements could count on some degree of support from every province except Southern Africa; that is no longer the case.

At a cultural level Africans value consensus, so they will be reluctant to push Congo, Burundi, or Central Africa, VOL was told.

While Archbishop Wabukala has the strength of character of both Archbishop Akinola and former Rwandan Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini, he is faced with dealing with at least two provinces (Congo and Burundi) with whom he doesn’t have the connections that Archbishop Kolini (who started out as a Congo bishop) had. Furthermore, there has always been a close if often tense relationship between Rwanda and Burundi.

The recent establishment of an Anglican Communion Communications Office in Nairobi is a sign of the West’s growing confidence in light of these facts. Both Archbishop Dr Daniel Deng Bul, Primate of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, and The Primate of Burundi, The Most Rev. Bernard Ntahoturi endorsed the project, which is being heavily funded by a grant from long-time supporters of communications in Africa Trinity Wall Street. Trinity Wall Street is the single richest church in the world.

The communications officer, we are told, will be hired from Africa and located in the Nairobi offices of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA).

Ironically, just down the road, The Rev. Charles Raven, a solidly orthodox UK vicar who has written a critical analysis of Rowan Williams theology has been invited by Archbishop Eliud Wabukala to take up the post of Programme Director at St Julian’s, Limuru, a retreat center and guesthouse in a rural setting near Nairobi. His brief is to develop St Julian’s as a key study and training facility for the Province and as a resource to support the Archbishop in his role as Chairman of the GAFCON Primates Council.

He describes it as a major challenge in the struggle for the global integrity and faithfulness as the Anglican Communion enters a new phase. “The energies of Western liberals are no longer being put so much into the widely discredited ‘instruments of unity’ but into the development of bilateral and relational links which effectively bracket out doctrinal issues through a lack of transparency and the use of ‘indaba’ strategies,” writes Raven.

The Anglican Communications Office in Nairobi is about “Anglicans everywhere hearing about the successes and challenges of fulfilling God’s mission in differing contexts”.

Given that the funding for this post is coming from Trinity Wall Street, a major funding vehicle for TEC projects around the world, it is very unlikely that false teaching in TEC and the West will be presented as anything other than Anglicanism in a “differing context” about which we need “conversation”. This post will be a platform for Western gay and liberal agitprop and the hearing of “stories” of “aggrieved,” “downtrodden” and “excluded” homosexuals from the Anglican conversation.

As well as the increasingly heavily US funded Pro-Gay, now deposed Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, formerly bishop of West Buganda, there is another movement called “Other Sheep East Africa” whose website describes itself as “Gay and Christian in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.”

The recent appointment of the Rev. Pam Strobel, senior associate at Christ Church, Greenwich, CT, to serve as a Mission Partner in the Anglican Church of Congo for two years, working directly under Archbishop Henri Isingoma to set up systems that will allow other mission partners to come work in the DR Congo is another Western liberal intrusion that only serves TEC’s purposes and deepens the ties TEC would like to have in Africa and thus swing it in their theological direction.

The push by western Anglican liberals takes on greater urgency if they are to win the culture wars in the Global South. It is a race against time. Western pan-Anglicanism is numerically withering and dying but still relatively speaking rich.

The bottom line is that it comes down to money for Congo, Burundi, and Central Africa. These are incredibly poor provinces (not that other African provinces aren’t as well), but as long as The Episcopal Church and Canterbury don’t involve themselves too much in their internal affairs and provide these provinces with money, they either will not support GAFCON or their voices will be conspicuously silent.

They will also likely continue to attend Lambeth-originated functions with every show of loyalty to Archbishop Rowan Williams. In time, TEC and Canterbury will make a lot of the fact that CAPA (minus Southern Africa) is no longer cohesive.

If the orthodox in the west want to regain these provinces (remembering Archbishop Fidele Dirokpa of the Congo and Archbishop Malango’s support of AMiA and Common Cause), it’s going to take strategic investment of time, money and education. The biggest areas of need are clergy training and support, and infrastructure development to make churches self-sustaining. Maslow’s hierarchy is very much at work here. In this climate, it is crucial that orthodox Anglicans are in the forefront with their foot firmly in the door and to keep on reminding the Global South that theological and ecclesiological liberalism and pansexuality equals spiritual death.


Moral Absolutes and the Moral Life

Friday, November 25th, 2011

by Christopher O. Tollefsen

November 21, 2011
Moral absolutes are not “mere” restrictions on our actions. Nor should they be suspended even when upholding them might bring about grave consequences. They are essential for protecting human wellbeing.

Moral absolutes, and the role of the so-called principle of double effect, play an essential role in the discourse of those who are committed to natural law reasoning about contemporary moral issues. To give just one example, consider the on-going controversy about the placentectomy that was performed on an expectant mother in Phoenix who was suffering from pulmonary arterial hypertension, an operation that saved her life, but resulted in the death of her child. That controversy is precisely over whether the moral absolute against murder was violated, or whether the death of the child was a “side effect” and not an intentional abortion at all. Yet moral absolutes—what they are, why they obtain, and how they are to be applied—are not always well understood. Both with a view to casting light back over other essays I have written, and with a view to an upcoming essay on the intentional killing of innocent persons in war, I here offer some thoughts on the nature of this essential part of practical ethics.

The natural law view that underlies much of what I have written for Public Discourse is rooted in the idea of St. Thomas Aquinas that the principles of the natural law are directives toward human goods that are aspects of human well-being. Moving beyond St. Thomas, we could say that each basic good gives to human agents a basic reason for action, rooted in those aspects of human well-being and perfection promised by instances of those goods. But there are many such goods: human life and health, knowledge, aesthetic experience, work and play, friendship, marriage, personal integrity, and the good of religion.

Faced with a plurality of goods, the moral question is this: what should one do when one is faced with competing options in the pursuit of goods, options that are not all mutually pursuable? The suggestion that I make here is that one should be always and entirely open to all the goods, in all persons, and never act directly or intentionally against any of the goods in any persons. “Openness” here should be understood to encompass the demand of the goods that they be promoted and protected: one is not open to basic aspects of human well-being if one always does nothing. The goods call, in various ways, for action on their behalf. But in all such action, the core negative requirement of morality is that one never intentionally act so as to damage or destroy an instance of a basic good.

To repeat, basic goods are aspects of human well-being, and nothing but such aspects. In themselves, as I have argued in my discussion of capital punishment, they give us always a reason to promote and protect, and always a reason not to damage. So an ethic of human goods, an ethic that takes human well-being as a touchstone notion, must establish some very strong protections of goods to be respected in human action, for damage to human goods is damage to human well-being or flourishing. An ethic that was concerned with human flourishing but paid no attention to whether an act was damaging or destructive of human goods would make little sense.

Yet it is impossible to go through life in service of human goods and human well-being without having some kind of negative impact upon basic human goods: even the choice to do this, rather than that, means that some goods will go unserved. In some cases, even fulfilling my obligations will have as a consequence some damage to basic goods: I thrust myself between my child and the attacker’s knife, for example, in order to save my child’s life; but I suffer grave damage to my own life in consequence. So a goods-based ethic rooted in human well-being cannot demand that whatever one does, one never in any way do anything that will bring harm upon instances of human goods. Such an ethic would be unworkable.

But one can always refrain from acting; and in this way, if in no other, one can always refrain from intentionally damaging instances of basic human goods. So we should conclude that the core constraint of ethics should and could be framed as a demand that one never intentionally damage or destroy an instance of a basic human good. This conclusion would only be strengthened were one to recognize that in many cases of positive action for the sake of some good, as in the case of my saving my child’s life, the unavoidable damage to the good—my life—is not intended. Rather, the harm I suffer is accepted as a side effect, but it is neither chosen as a means, nor willed as an end; in short, it is not intended.

This line of thought leads not only to the formulation of moral absolutes, but also to the so-called principle of double effect. With regard to absolutes, each will be framed as a negative requirement never to choose a particular kind of act that is always damaging to a basic good. So, a moral absolute regarding human life would be: never intentionally kill an innocent human being. (In fact, I believe that no human being should be intentionally killed, but we can put that aside for now.)

However, recognizing that some acts that have as a consequence the death of a human being are such that the death is not intended, the principle of double effect teaches that under certain circumstances—if the agent has not been negligent and has no other way to address the problem, and if the goods at stake are great and gravely threatened—then the agent may do something (save my child’s life) that is morally good, even though that action has as a side effect a consequence (harm to my life) that it would be wrong to intend. Particularly where the good of human life is concerned, the principle of double effect has been thought central to the defense of moral absolutes; for example, without it—if we had only a blanket prohibition against doing anything that harmed innocent life—it would be impossible to refuse a medical treatment, no matter how onerous or costly, if the refusal would shorten the patient’s life.

What emerges from the discussion concerning moral absolutes, then, is this: First, moral absolutes are essential to the protection of human goods, and hence human well-being. They are not “mere” restrictions or commands, with no relevance to the goods that matter to us.

Second, moral absolutes are to be understood as restricting certain kinds of intentional acts: intentional killing, for example. This leads, third, to the following important point: as so understood, moral absolutes are to be framed only by identifying a kind of act that, if it were chosen, would be such always as to involve the agent’s intending damage or destruction to a basic human good. Put another way, the acts picked out by moral absolutes do not themselves include a reference to their moral status; but they are such that they—acts of this kind—may be identified as always and everywhere wrong because of their negative relationship to human goods.

Descriptions of the moral absolute against murder thus go wrong if they identify the act that is prohibited as “unjust killing” or “killing one with a right to life.” Much better is: no intentional killing of innocent human beings. We may designate this kind of action by the name “murder.” And if, as I think, such acts as murder, so understood, are always directed against someone’s pursuit or enjoyment of basic goods, then one can conclude that the intentional killing of an innocent human being (murder) is always and everywhere wrong. Murder is thus not defined as wrongful killing (for then “murder is wrong” would be a mere tautology, trivially true). But, because all murder involves an intentional damaging of an instance of the basic good of human life, it is true that murder is always wrong.

There is, fourth and finally, an implication of the “absoluteness” of moral absolutes, an implication identified by every major figure of the Thomistic natural law tradition up until quite recently: absolutes are never to be violated, regardless of the consequences. This claim might seem almost comically obvious, were it not so routinely questioned, even by very serious proponents of the natural law, and even by members of faith traditions, such as the Catholic Church, who have accepted and promulgated the doctrine that there are moral absolutes. For routinely we find that even such persons of good will are doubtful that moral absolutes should be upheld in situations where many lives are at stake, or where horrible evils are threatened, or in situations, as they have come to be called, of “supreme emergency,” such as the Nazi threat against Europe, the Soviet threat against the free West, or the Islamist threat of al Qaeda.

As John Finnis and others have argued, even a conditional willingness to accept that moral absolutes may be put aside in such cases denudes the doctrine of moral absolutes of all its distinctive content: apparently, if such exceptions are to be contemplated, there will be situations in which the goods protected by the moral absolutes are outweighed or overridden by some conceivable set of harms or other achievable goods. But if such a possibility is available in principle, then not only are there no moral absolutes, there is also no reason to think that the boundary at which we meet restrictions against such actions as intentional killing of the innocent, false assertion, blasphemy, or adultery is far out, distant from our day-to-day considerations. Perhaps there are legitimate goods to be achieved and evils avoided, by, for example, killing a patient to relieve suffering, and not just killing non-combatants to destroy Nazi morale.

So the acceptance of the claim that there are moral absolutes makes a stringent demand on our practical reason: violation of such absolutes is never to be considered a real option for action, whether in hypothetical scenarios scared up to induce conditional violations, or in our day-to-day life, faced with the myriad of temptations to which each of us is subject.

Christopher O. Tollefsen is Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and a Visiting Fellow in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He is the editor of Bioethics with Liberty and Justice: Themes in the Work of Joseph M. Boyle. Tollefsen sits on the editorial board of Public Discourse.

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