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The Precarious Future of Assisted Suicide

'Culture of Death' sounds the alarm on pending medical bioethics legislation and other troubling trends.

My country’s parliament recently passed the first national assisted-suicide legislation in our history. Prompted by the Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision last year to strike down the previous law as unconstitutionally restricting individual rights to life, liberty, and security, Parliament is now arguing over how widely or narrowly to involve Canadian citizens—both patients and health care providers—in assisted suicide.

In Culture of Death, first published in 2000, American lawyer and activist Wesley J. Smith warned that this debate was upon us. A new, updated revision of the book sharpens this warning, drawing on a wide range of cases in Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, and the bellwether states of Oregon and Washington.

Smith is not an elegant writer—his discussion of truly awful subjects is sometimes interrupted by jarringly flip remarks: “Nobody ever said Terri [Schiavo] would one day get out of bed and tap dance.” And in a discussion that too easily falls prey to amateurish fear-mongering, he sometimes fails to provide citations—and, weirdly, quotes Dutch documents in stilted English translated by Google.

Nonetheless, Smith is generally a clear writer, he has immersed himself in these issues for years, and the portrait he paints is, on the whole, convincing and therefore ghastly. People really are suffering grim and painful deaths over several days by having food and water tubes removed against their will. Depressed and debilitated people really are being pressured into suicide by family members and physicians wanting them out of the way. Comatose or otherwise unresponsive patients really are being treated as vegetables: useful for what can be harvested from them ...

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The Inconvenience of Loving Wisdom

Those who are afraid to test their convictions will lose the moral high ground in calling non-Christians to test their own beliefs.

A woman came to my door one day carrying a massive Bible and toting literature adorned with pictures of happy people working in a bountiful garden. She was a Jehovah’s Witness asking if I’d be interested in a Bible study.

To be perfectly honest, I did not want to do a Bible study with a Jehovah’s Witness, but neither did I want to completely reject her. It’s gotta be tough going door to door asking people to start a Bible study as a Jehovah’s Witness. So I outlined my terms:

I’m a Christian who believes that Jesus was God. I believe that He was crucified for our sins and was raised to life. In fact, my life is pretty thoroughly built around those things since I work for a Christian organization. But if that is not true … if Jesus was not God, was not crucified, and did not rise for the dead, then I don’t want to believe these things. Even though it would cost me everything I’ve built my life upon, if what I believe is not true, then I don’t want to believe it. So If you can say the same thing, then we have a basis for a study.

The woman walked away, essentially telling me that she preferred what she currently believed, even if it were not true.

Intellectual honesty is a scary prospect for those of us who have built our lives around faith in Jesus’ resurrection. But if we want to engage people whose hunger for truth outstrips their satisfaction of what they currently believe, we must also have the integrity to join them. If what we believe about Jesus is wrong, then we must be willing to side with truth and walk away from falsehood.

Most Millennials, and perhaps almost anyone, can smell beliefs of convenience, people who are so entrenched in their theology that ...

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How Can The Church Thrive In A Non-Christian World?

If our churches have to be a little more uncomfortable to us insiders in order to reach even one lost soul for Christ, thats a sacrifice we should all be willing to make.

As we all know, it’s election season. This isn’t ever a rosy time for America, filled with rainbows and warm hugs. But if the political season of 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that the United States is culturally confused. Competing narratives vie for attention, as we’re trying to figure out just who we are as a country. There was a time in our history when it seemed like everyone was a Christian. Now, depending on where in America you live, it can seem like no one is a Christian.

Are we losing our Christian heritage? Were we ever a Christian nation to begin with? And how should churches respond to all of this?

However you read our country’s history, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we have reached a cultural tipping point. Our society no longer assumes the gospel, which means the Church often stands at odds with the rest of society. That may make us uncomfortable and frightened. We like being in the majority.

But the gospel is always clearer in an age when it is not culturally assumed. The Early Church thrived in the midst of a hostile non-Christian world—not because they were more numerous or more powerful, but because they were both radically distinct and culturally relevant.

Radically Distinct

Many of us in North America, especially the older ones among us, grew up in a context where Christianity was assumed.

It may be more comfortable to grow up in an age when everyone calls themselves Christian, but I would argue that it’s actually harmful to the gospel. When the gospel doesn’t stand out as distinct, then we domesticate it into our tradition. That’s what we see going on in evangelical regions across the country.

Even now, upward of 75% of Americans call ...

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What Happened When Christian Writers Watched an All-Muslim Movie?

Introducing a new series from film critic Jeffrey Overstreet.

Have you seen Timbuktu?

All of this movie’s main characters are Muslims. In fact, the screenplay’s deepest wisdom is spoken in a mosque by a passionate imam. But when I showed it to a room full of Christian writers, what followed was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had at the movies.

Last January, at a conference center on Whidbey Island, The Chrysostom Society retreat organizers asked me to share movies with the group of writers that had gathered together. This year, Timbuktu lifted us from our soggy Pacific Northwest surroundings and set us down at the edge of the Sahara. When the movie was over, we sat in a heavy hush, reflecting on what we had seen.

Consider this: A 99% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. A Cannes Film Festival Ecumenical Jury prize. An Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Top honors from the Africa Movie Academy Awards.

Yet, like so many world-class films, Timbuktu remains almost unknown to American moviegoers. It’s subtitled, after all. It’s foreign. It doesn’t star familiar names and faces.

In a recent promotional video, a Christian filmmaker declared with confidence that he would give Christians what they want to see:

  • A Christian worldview on the screen (not somebody else’s).
  • Two hours without any risk of being offended.
  • Entertainment!

Christians gave him a lot of money, and his film was widely distributed.

By contrast, Timbuktu’s director Abderrahmane Sissako is not interested in affirming a particular “worldview.” He’s willing to offend audiences with hard truths. And “entertainment” is not his priority. As he did in his 2006 film Bamako, he bears artistic witness to the sufferings of our neighbors. He loves ...

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Old Hollywoods Abortion Secret

What a culture of death tells us about a culture of life.

“Don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars,” breathes Bette Davis, gazing soulfully at Paul Henreid.

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” Judy Garland sings tenderly to a tearful Margaret O’Brien.

“There’s a name for you ladies,” smirks Joan Crawford, just before sweeping from the room, “but it isn’t used in high society . . . outside of a kennel.”

These and many other immortal scenes are treasured by classic movie fans like me. We tend to look back at the Golden Age of Hollywood as a time that was both more elegant and more innocent. In part, it was: The famous and much-debated Production Code toned down a lot of the onscreen behavior that many of us now take offense at, and female stars often had more substantive and less sexualized roles than they do now.

Offscreen, however, things were very different. According to a recent story in Vanity Fair, female stars like Davis, Garland, and Crawford paid a high price to give us those memorable moments.

“Much like today, in Old Hollywood, the decisions being made about women’s bodies were made in the interests of men—the powerful heads of motion pictures studios MGM, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and RKO,” write Marcie Bianco and Merryn Johns. And therefore, “from the very infancy of America’s film industry, abortions were necessary body maintenance for women in the spotlight.”

The article is filled with painful stories about women who in public appeared powerful and in control but in private were pressured or even coerced into aborting their children. (It should be noted that, then as now, Hollywood gossip wasn’t always trustworthy or well-sourced, ...

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When Modern Medicine Becomes a False God

A doctor reflects on what healthcare can—and cant—accomplish.

Since the birth of our daughter, my wife has been dealing with an anxiety disorder. At its most extreme, she suffered constant panic attacks, triggered by things as slight as our children arguing or the worship music in a darkened sanctuary. Today, tightness in her chest often prevents her from exercising, or a rush of adrenaline keeps her up for hours at night. The symptoms can mostly be managed and aren’t obvious day to day. To most who meet her, she appears healthy, “normal.”

Unlike other illnesses, whose symptoms might be overt and lead to expected changes in behavior, anxiety imposes limits only its sufferers know. And this can be the biggest challenge, the hardest symptom to bear—limitations on one’s life that others do not expect. We grow up believing the world is our oyster, and we are told constantly that nothing should prevent us from laying hold of what we desire. As she, and we, have wrestled with the implications of living with anxiety, by far the most significant struggle has been acceptance of her body’s inherent weakness. We had not realized how conditioned we were to see good health not as a gift, but as a right alongside liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Only when our health turns for the worse do we discover otherwise. “Although our world is full of disease, accidents, and random misfortunes,” writes Bob Cutillo, a physician at Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in Denver, “many of us never plan on being sick or dying and are quite shocked when we are. How have we come to think like that in a world like this?”

Advances in medicine have achieved so much good—reducing suffering and extending life—that we now demand miracles. We wield ...

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Why God Doesnt Let Us In On Everything

An excerpt from 'Humble Roots.'

In nature, red skin signals that a tomato is ripe. But this is not necessarily true of tomatoes that have been forced to turn red. It is entirely possible, and likely, that we are purchasing and consuming unripe fruit. And there would be little way of knowing it until we take the first bite.

To be fair, part of the reason that growers gas tomatoes with ethylene is because this is what the market demands. As consumers, we want to walk into our local grocery store any time of the day, any day of the week, and pick up a red tomato.

In much the same way, we want the certainty of knowing that the answers to life’s questions are always within reach. But humility teaches us to wait for God for answers. Humility teaches us to let knowledge ripen on the vine.

In the hours immediately before his death, Jesus spends time teaching and praying with his disciples, reminding them that they must abide in him in order to bear fruit. He also promises to send the Helper, or the Holy Spirit, to enable them to learn and grow. Jesus promises them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

While Jesus is concerned that his disciples grow in their understanding, he is also comfortable with them not knowing all things—in part because they aren’t ready for more knowledge yet. Jesus is also confident in the Holy Spirit’s ability to take them through the process. But this can only happen as they are connected to him, the Vine.

Proverbs 3 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” In God’s wisdom, ...

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Interview: The Value of Friends Who Dont Look, Think, or Vote Like You Do

When you limit your social circles, you limit your opportunities to grow.

In an era of stark political division and social-media distraction, genuine friendship doesn’t come easy. Which makes it all the more urgent, says Nashville pastor Scott Sauls. In Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear (Tyndale), Sauls especially advocates taking risks in befriending people unlike ourselves. CT online managing editor Richard Clark recently spoke to Sauls about building God-honoring friendships.

Where do we go wrong in our ideas of friendship?

One of our biggest mistakes is to limit our circles to people who look, think, and vote like us. It minimizes friction and disagreement—but also the opportunity to grow, to learn, and to have our assumptions challenged.

We’ve also substituted digital connectivity for real, face-to-face, life-together friendships. This lets us give edited self-presentations, putting our best foot forward rather than allowing ourselves to be fully known. An essential aspect of community is having people know our best and our worst—our dreams and aspirations, but also our fears, insecurities, and failures.

What if we reach out in friendship to someone unlike us, but the other person resists?

You at least need the commonality of wanting friendship. David and Jonathan are a great example. One is a blue-collar tender of sheep, and the other is a prince. For friendship to happen, both parties have to be committed.

There’s a person in our church who has strong blue-state politics. He asked to be matched to a small group with a bunch of Republicans, because he felt that experience would be valuable. Two years later, he told me that people from that group are some of his best friends. They go on vacations together and do things together on ...

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I Found the Gospel in Communist Romania

And then I shared it with the man the government sent to kill me.

Like most people, I was born with a hunger for truth and freedom. Unfortunately, I was born in Communist Romania under the brutal totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. Ceausescu’s Romania was a land of lies, where simply questioning a government directive could lead to imprisonment, physical torture, and—in some cases—death.

Needless to say, we lived in a constant state of anxiety and mistrust. Anyone could arbitrarily denounce a neighbor, classmate, or family member for making “anti-government” statements. The government even had spies planted in the churches. The best way to avoid trouble was to remain silent, question nothing, and try to blend in.

For years, I watched my parents and relatives play the part of “good citizens” while privately whispering their contempt for the government. I wondered, Why do people always speak in whispers? Why are they so afraid to speak the truth?

‘Do you go to church?’

The more fear battered those around me into silence, the more obsessed I became with finding the truth. After graduation, I went to law school and became an attorney. But my job—assigned by the government—consisted of little more than rubber-stamping newly-created communist rules and regulations. It was demoralizing.

One evening a client came in to discuss some paperwork related to a property settlement. We had been meeting for months now, and frankly, I was exhausted. But this particular client never seemed to get discouraged. He always smiled, and he had a sense of contentment unlike anything I had ever seen. It was as though he were somehow oblivious to all of the misery that surrounded him. He radiated joy and peace, and for some reason, it troubled me.

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Art Advocates

A snapshot of Christian witness in the world (as it appeared in our October issue).

Dozens of children lent their fingerprints to Baylor University’s Rachel Taylor and Veronica Campbell during the students’ summer mission trip to Zambia. Their paintings raised almost $45,000 for a community of orphans near Lusaka, the capital city. A whopping 10 percent of Zambia’s 14 million people are orphans; half have lost parents to AIDS. In the majority-Christian country, 13 percent of adults are HIV-positive. “I had no idea this project would be such a success,” said Campbell. The experience helped her to see “the importance of [art] and how it can help people.”

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