April 16, 2015

Controversial cakes

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop (Lakewood, Colorado),
  was sued by a gay couple for refusing to bake them a cake
 celebrating their same-sex wedding.
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, April 16, 2015

Controversial cakes

You can't have your cake and eat it too. Or so the saying goes. Apparently, in view of the hoopla over gay wedding cakes, some persons not only want to have and eat their cake but also wish to force others to bake it for them.

I've heard (at least) two popular but poor arguments in favour of legally coercing Christian bakers to bake wedding cakes for same-sex weddings, and I'd like to show why I think those arguments are poor.

Argument 1. Because these bakers refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, the bakers are discriminating against gays.

Assessment: Well, yes and no.

Yes, the bakers discriminate against gays by refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings, but, no, the bakers are not discriminating against gays in general. The bakers serve gays in day-to-day business by serving pastries, cupcakes, birthday cakes, etc. But the bakers refuse to participate in what seems to them as contributing to the celebration of an event—i.e., a same-sex marriage ceremony—which goes against their moral conscience or religious view.

In other words, gays are here not being discriminated against as a class as, say, blacks have been discriminated against as a class. Rather, a particular type of event—a same-sex wedding—is not being serviced and celebrated by some—a few—bakers. Significantly, there's no shortage of other bakers who are ready and willing to bake the desired cakes.

Surely, in a tolerant and pluralist society, a few bakers should be free to refuse some business on moral or religious grounds.

Think about it. A Muslim baker should be free not to bake cakes celebrating pornographic images for a stag party. A Jewish baker should be free not to bake a cake celebrating the pork industry. A black baker should be free to refuse baking a cake to celebrate white supremacy. A gay baker should be free to refuse baking a cake for Westboro Baptist Church (of "God hates fags" notoriety).

Argument 2. But because they're Christian bakers, if they're asked to bake a gay wedding cake, they should walk the "extra mile" and bake two cakes—even if they think same-sex marriage is sin. After all, Jesus says that if a Roman soldier asks you to carry his pack one mile you should carry it two miles.

In reply, notice that carrying the soldier's pack isn't a case of celebrating the Roman occupation, but creating a wedding cake is a significant part of the marriage celebration.

So, if one believes, as the Christian bakers (in the news) believe, that same-sex marriage is immoral (and deemed as such by Jesus), then the appeal to the "extra mile" principle runs amok. To be consistent one would have to agree to encourage other sins.

Think of it this way. If you're a Christian baker and you think incestuous marriage is wrong, you'd have to (according to argument 2) agree to bake two cakes to celebrate incest if you're asked to bake one.

If you're a Christian videographer and you think pornography is wrong, you'd have to agree to offer to make two porn films if someone asks for one.

In business in general you'd have to agree to two unscrupulous deals if someone asks for one.

In other words, before the "extra mile" principle is applied, the circumstance to which it's applied should be determined to be moral or immoral. That should be settled first. Those who apply the "extra mile" principle to the bakers assume that the moral issue has been settled—but this is unfair to those whose conscience and moral reasoning say otherwise.

Folks, life in a tolerant and pluralist society won't always be easy. Let's not force people to violate their moral or religious conscience when there are many other, less oppressive ways to get a cake.

Phone ahead—this way nobody will have to walk an extra block, let alone an extra mile.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

April 01, 2015


By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, April 1, 2015


What is apologetics? Why is it important for Christians?

Apologetics is the intellectual discipline/ practice in which one presents reasons for one’s worldview or philosophy or spirituality, to commend it as true—done typically in response to questions or objections, to arbitrate between competing worldviews, philosophies, and spiritualities.

"Apologetics" derives from the Greek word apologia, which means a reasoned defence or justification of an intellectual position or even conduct. Plato’s book Apology is an extended apologia in which Socrates defends himself at a trial against false charges of corrupting Athenian youth, charges that arose from his relentless questioning of Athenian cultural pretenses. (An apology, then, doesn't always mean saying sorry.)

For truth-seeking individuals, the doing of apologetics—the presenting of an apologia—involves not only setting out reasons for a position, but also carefully assessing the reasons pro and con. If there are false or deceptive worldviews, philosophies, and spiritualities, we should strive to be critical thinkers who discern truth.

Specifically Christian apologetics involves setting out reasons for commending the Gospel as truth and refuting objections to knowledge of God, and such apologetics is to be done with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

Why is apologetics important for Christians?

There are at least three reasons, which Christian philosopher, theologian, and apologist William Lane Craig sets out in his book On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision.

First, apologetics (done well) shapes culture in such a way that it inclines people to be more open to the good news of Jesus Christ. That is, apologetics creates an intellectual milieu such that the truths concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are not wholly dismissed as mere superstition. The alleged truths become, in the words of William James, a "live hypothesis" (i.e., a real possibility to be considered).

(This fits with what the Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer called "pre-evangelism." This also fits with the notion of apologetics more broadly defined by religion professor John Stackhouse Jr., who suggests that "anything that helps people take Christianity more seriously than they did before, anything that helps defend and commend it, properly counts as apologetics." Stackhouse includes art and music.)

Second, apologetics strengthens those who are already followers of Jesus. I can attest personally that knowing that there are good reasons for believing that God exists, that Jesus claimed to be God, and that Jesus did in fact resurrect bodily after being killed—knowing these reasons helps me continue to be a follower of Jesus when I'm in doubt or struggling. Apologetics has helped me maintain my faith (and grow in faith) through three philosophy degrees at universities that were sometimes intellectually inhospitable to Christianity.

Third, apologetics wins people to Christ. Craig writes: "Like a missionary called to reach an obscure people group, the Christian apologist is burdened to reach that minority of persons who will respond to rational argument and evidence."

Craig goes on to point out that he and apologist Lee Strobel (author of the popular books The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith) "continually are thrilled to see people committing their lives to Christ through presentations of the gospel coupled with apologetics." Craig adds that Strobel "has lost count of the number of people who have come to Christ through his books." Many persons have also come to Christ through Craig's well-attended debates with leading atheists, agnostics, and Muslims.

Clearly, the Holy Spirit uses reason and evidence to draw people to God!

Of course, apologetics isn't the only means whereby people are drawn to God. Living a life characterized by love of God and neighbour—what Craig calls the "ultimate apologetic"—is crucial. So is prayer.

To learn more about Christian apologetics, I invite readers to take the one-week course Special Studies in Philosophy of Religion: William Lane Craig's Campus Apologetics. This course will be offered at Providence University College from April 20 to 24 (check ProvidenceUC.ca) and will be taught by…me.

Happy Easter!

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

Resources that I've found helpful and which I recommend: 

March 19, 2015

Jesus or Muhammad?

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, March 19, 2015

Jesus or Muhammad?

In today's postmodern religious world, much emphasis is on story. But I find myself asking: how do I arbitrate between competing religious stories? How do I arbitrate between, say, Christianity and Islam? Who should I follow—Jesus or Muhammad?

My answer: Jesus. Why? Because publicly accessible historical evidence favours Jesus, not Muhammad. Here is a summary of relevant historical evidence.

Jesus claims to be the God of the universe (the great I AM) come to earth as a human being. He lives a life characterized by healings, compassion for the vulnerable, and speaking truth to power. He claims he is the way, the truth, and the life, and that nobody comes to God but through him.

Jesus is accused of blasphemy, is unjustly sentenced to death, and dies a horrible, painful death on a cross. A couple days later, however, Jesus is seen physically alive and well by various individuals and variously sized groups, at different times, at different places, over a period of several weeks. (Not so incidentally, the first witnesses to Jesus' resurrection are women, which implies a high view of women, if Jesus is God.)

The risen Jesus teaches that via his death and resurrection Jesus takes our punishment for sin onto himself and he defeats the powers of death, and that his resurrection is a sign for us to trust him—so we should repent and follow him.

Significantly, the evidence for Jesus' life, death, and resurrection comes to us from eyewitnesses and close associates of eyewitnesses. Significantly, too, historians and scholars who don't succumb to anti-miraculous bias argue convincingly that the records concerning Jesus' life, death, and resurrection are believable.

The focus of Islam is the man Muhammad and the Qur'an, the allegedly true and complete revelation from God. Muhammad doesn't claim to be God; he claims to be God's latest and greatest prophet.

According to Muhammad, Jesus is an important prophet, but not God in human flesh. Nor did Jesus die on the cross (somebody else did) and so Jesus didn't resurrect bodily after death. Muhammad dies and stays dead.

Significantly, all the Qur'an's revelations about Jesus come to Muhammad 600 years after Jesus and 1,000 kilometers away via an (alleged) angel.

Significantly, too, Muhammad's life reveals an extremely violent man bent on world domination by force—and he teaches others to be and do likewise. (It's interesting that the present leader of ISIS has a PhD in Islamic Studies.)

Muhammad ordered his followers to kill "infidels," i.e., those who don't agree with his views about himself and the Qur'an.

Moreover, Muhammad ordered various assassinations. On one occasion, he ordered the assassination of a mother of five (killed while she was breastfeeding one of her children). Also, Muhammad beheaded over 500 Jewish men and teenage boys, while his followers sold women and children into slavery.

Unlike Jesus, who shed his own blood for others to spread his message of reconciliation to God, Muhammad shed the blood of others to impose his message.

Also, Muhammad had a low view of women (their testimony is worth half that of a man, more women than men will be in hell), and he married a girl when she was six, consummating the marriage three years later.

So, Jesus or Muhammad?

I respect my Muslim friends and neighbours, and I will defend their right to exercise religious freedom (within what Princeton philosopher Robert P. George calls "the broad limits of justice and the requirements of the common good"). Nevertheless, I choose Jesus.

Significantly, the historical evidences for Jesus' life, death, and resurrection are close to the events temporally and geographically, in fact, closer than Muhammad's—the Qur'an's—claims to the contrary (because, as I mentioned, the historical evidences for Jesus contain accounts of eyewitnesses and close associates of eyewitnesses, whereas the Qur'an's testimony comes 600 years later and 1,000 kilometres away).

Thus, the evidence for Jesus allows me to take Jesus seriously as God in human flesh.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

Recommended resources: 

 See, too, my Apologia columns on Islam: