To Pray, or to Politicize?

The recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have functioned as a wake-up call to the dangers of radical Islamic terrorism. Yet more surprising than the attacks themselves (in many ways, not shocking at all) was the backlash on social media to the idea that we should pray for the victims.

Expressing thoughts and prayers in times of tragedy used to be pretty safe territory, sort of like saying “thank you” for a favor or “I’m sorry” for an offense. It is – or at least used to be – the standard response.

Not this time. While thousands offered thoughts and prayers in solidarity with the victims, others disparaged such prayers as meaningless and condemned their offerors as hypocrites. A better response, they argued, would be to politicize the tragedy to push a gun control agenda before the blood had even time to dry.

Consider for a moment the rudeness of such behavior. Few would reject a gift offered in good faith. But accusing those who pray for others is like ripping a gift out of the hands of its recipient and stomping on it in front of both the giver and receiver. When someone has just been injured or lost a loved one, they usually don’t solicit your policy analysis. A woman whose son has just died on the operating table isn’t interested in your opinion on what the surgeon should have done. A man whose wife has just died in a car accident does not care to hear your thoughts on car safety, at least not as he holds her hand for the last time.

Now that the victims of San Bernardino terrorist attack have had the chance to speak out, many have specifically requested prayers. As far as I know, none have called for gun control – the knee-jerk liberal response to all violence where guns are involved, even if bombs are also used or planned to be used, as was the case in both attacks.

Why is prayer preferable to politicization?

First, prayer unites, whereas politics by its very nature divides. We should all condemn violence – whether it is the result of a terrorist attack, a criminal act, or a mass shooter. We should all comfort grieving victims. But we don’t always agree on the underlying causes of violence, much less what specific laws or policies would best prevent it.

Second, prayers are offered from a position of humility, whereas tragedies are politicized from a position of arrogance. The Oxford Dictionary defines prayer as “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.” Thus, someone offering prayers makes the following assumptions:

  1. I need (or somebody else needs) help.
  2. I am blessed in many ways.
  3. I am not able to do this on my own.
  4. God is the source of all blessings, and He alone can fulfill our needs.

Every step of this assumption tree requires humility. In the final step, we acknowledge that we are not the most powerful beings in existence, but rather subject to God’s authority and the recipients of His divine mercy. Perhaps this irritates the politicizers most of all, who like to consider themselves the all-powerful, all-merciful elites. They would prefer we come to government with our problems and thank government for our deliverance. Their assumption tree looks something like this:

  1. I need (or somebody else needs) help.
  2. I am (or the government is) more intelligent than the average person.
  3. People can’t be trusted to make decisions on their own.
  4. Government is the source of all blessings, and it alone can fulfill our needs.

Notice how the first step is the same, but every subsequent step requires an abundance of arrogance.

It is no secret that we tend to pray the most when going through particularly difficult situations. In moments of extreme stress or danger, even atheists are likely to be caught praying that God exists and that He respond to their need. Intuitively, even non-believers understand that government is not going to help them find their lost car keys, get that new job, or make it through surgery successfully. But God just might.

While we need God’s help all the time, we are most likely to realize it when we are feeling particularly helpless. Praying for others when we ourselves are not directly threatened is a way of both acknowledging our blessings and asking God’s help for our fellow man. Circumstances have already brought them to their knees, be they friends, acquaintances, or complete strangers. When we pray, we get down on our knees with them.

Prayer is not magic. We do not believe that the right combination of ritual or incantation will give us the power over nature that only rightly belongs to God. However, prayer is not fatalist, and it is not passive. When we pray, we are not sitting on our hands waiting for God to do the job. “I’ll pray for you,” does not imply, “Stop whatever you’re doing; God will fix it!” Rather, prayer inspires action. Christians believe we are called to use our time and talents to serve one another, and every year millions of Christians around the world do just that.

Ironically, it is the Twitter and Facebook “slactivists” who seem to think that voicing their opinion on gun control and calling for more government regulation absolves them of the need for further personal action. While Christians open their pockets every year to support thousands of deserving charities, secular liberals lobby for government redistribution.

That we have differing responses to tragedy is to be expected, but why are the politicizers so irritated by the pray-ers?

First, many people are actively hostile to religion, and to the Christian faith in particular. They have succeeded in driving religion out of public life and prayer out of our schools, but it is still not enough. The fact that they can’t control what is going on in our minds – the possibility that we might be thinking “wrong” thoughts beyond their power to correct – bothers them in a way that should truly frighten supporters of the First Amendment.

Second, some people seem to think that by praying for one person or group of people, we are leaving out others who might be more deserving. When people started voicing prayers for Paris, some condemned them for not praying for Beirut (as if they somehow knew this was not the case).

Should we pray for all victims of tragedy, whether they be in Africa, Europe, or the Middle East? Of course, and many American Christians do just that. Last Easter, my church prayed for the victims of the Garissa massacre in Kenya long after its news slipped from the headlines. Certainly if prayer fell under the authority of the federal government, there would be an entire bureaucracy set up to evaluate whose need was more deserving. Fortunately, God’s grace is infinite, thus obviating the need for man to regulate it. Unlike government largesse, there is always enough supply to meet the demand.

But the real reason for the prayer-shamer’s distress is competition. For while Christians worship God, many liberals worship the State. They are the high priests and followers of a secular religion, the new magicians claiming a power over nature that Christians long ago left to God.

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Interpreting Obama’s History Lesson on the Crusades

President Obama recently made headlines with some off-the-cuff historical commentary at the National Prayer Breakfast. In discussing the challenge posed by terrorist groups like ISIS, Obama cautioned: “Lest we get on our high horse and think (violence in the name of faith) is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

The responses to this statement from both the Left and the Right were predictably divergent. Liberals considered the statement unremarkable. (Religion has often led to violence and extremism no matter which group wields it; who could object to such an obvious truth?) Conservatives, however (especially Christian ones) took offense to the comparison as both historically inaccurate and irrelevant to the present conflict: what could be gained by the President of the United States appearing to draw a moral equivalency between the obvious present evil of ISIS and the possible sins of a handful of Christians committed almost a thousand years ago?

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Of course, it is always useful to recognize that no one person or group of people has a monopoly on morality; I have never met a Christian who would argue otherwise. We know Jesus’ message of humility and forgiveness was more often directed at hypocrites like the Pharisees who went about proclaiming their good deeds, unlike the prostitutes and tax collectors who made no such pretensions. There is plenty of biblical and historical evidence that good and bad individuals (or if you prefer, behaviors) exist in all groups.

However, if this was Obama’s intended point, it failed for several reasons.

First, the Crusades were morally ambiguous. They provide neither a clear-cut case of Christian vice and Muslim virtue, or the reverse. The Crusades were also not a single event, but rather a series of rather disorganized and disparate military campaigns that occurred over a period of centuries. This makes them especially difficult to teach, and even more difficult to employ as straight-forward lessons in morality.

Contemporary historians have often failed to understand what motivated individual Crusaders. Many western Christians sacrificed their fortunes to go and do battle against the enemies of Christendom, believing wholeheartedly in the rightness of their cause and the promise of receiving indulgences for their sins. Though some have imagined them to be harbingers of 19th century European imperialism, the Crusades were not motivated primarily by economic and political greed dressed up in religious justifications.

Some Crusaders did commit atrocities, most notably the slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland Massacres. But according to Wikipedia:

The massacre of the Rhineland Jews by the People’s Crusade, and other associated persecutions, were condemned by the leaders and officials of the Catholic Church. The bishops of Mainz, Speyer, and Worms had attempted to protect the Jews of those towns within the walls of their own palaces, but the People’s Crusade broke in to slaughter them. Fifty years later when St. Bernard of Clairvaux was urging recruitment for the Second Crusade, he specifically criticized the attacks on Jews which occurred in the First Crusade.

The Fourth Crusade was the most infamous failure, as Latin Christians sacked, pillaged, and plundered the already-Christian Constantinople. The full story is a lot more complicated than that, but it is important to realize that there was no single leader, not even the pope, directing the actions of the Crusaders. In fact, they were so disorganized it is almost a miracle that they even arrived at their destination, much less established short-lived Christian kingdoms.

Adam Gopnik writes a thought-provoking article in the New Yorker about the nature of history, though I disagree with some of his conclusions. History simplifies, he observes, but “restoring complexity doesn’t always make things clearer.” Gopnik writes: “the forces in history are always multiple, complex, and contingent, much more so than the fables make it seem. The forces in any particular historical event are always almost infinitely divisible into smaller and often contradictory parts, with a lot of fuzzy cases and leg room.” The Crusades are a perfect example of this.

Second, historical context is especially important here. If one is determined to use the Crusades to illustrate some contemporary political point, one must first understand where they fit into the larger pattern of interaction between Christians and Muslims that has been unfolding for the past fourteen hundred years.

For over four centuries prior to Pope Urban II’s call, Christians had been fighting a series of defensive battles against Muslim expansion, and losing more often than not. Charles Martel did lead the French to victory at the Battle of Tours in 732, halting the Muslim advance into Europe, but only after all of Spain had been lost (Over 700 years would pass before it was reclaimed.). When the recently converted Seljuk Turks (and not the original Arab carriers of Islam, who had controlled the Holy Land for centuries) began threatening the safety of Middle Eastern Christians and the survival of what was left of the Byzantine Empire, this prompted Pope Urban II to call for Roman Christians to assist their brothers in the East, reclaim the Holy Land, and make the birthplace of the Christian faith safe once again for Christians. They failed on nearly all accounts.

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It is hard to see why a failed Christian campaign to retake their faith’s holiest sites could continue to anger present-day Muslims, as most Christians that I know have forgiven Muslim victories in the Middle East, Spain, the Balkans, and Anatolia, to the extent that they were even aware of them.

While Christians and Muslims have coexisted peacefully at several times in history (usually under Muslim rule, with Christians paying for the privilege), Islam has more often than not acted as the aggressor. Even after the threat of the Seljuk Turks abated (the ones who provoked the Crusades), the Ottoman Turks continued to threaten and enslave European Christians for centuries until a couple key defensive victories halted their advance, most notably at Vienna and Lepanto.

It is beyond the scope of this post to adequately expand on this point, but Islam and Christianity have very different beliefs and histories. Jesus never led men into battle or governed an empire, while Mohammad did both. Jesus famously instructed his followers to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” while Mohammad established a caliphate with no distinction between religious and political authority. Early Christians were severely persecuted for their beliefs with many dying as martyrs for their faith, while Islam from its inception spread by the sword and attracted converts seeking political, social, and economic advancement. While Christianity developed within the cultural context of Judaism and the Roman Empire, Islam incorporated many of the pre-existing traditions of the Arab people. All this context matters if we are to really learn from the past. We can’t just cherry-pick isolated events, neglecting the bigger picture.

Third, when attempting to draw lessons from history, it is important to ask whether this is the right time to bring that back up. Is Past Event A really the right parallel for Current Situation B?

Imagine a married couple having a fight. A wife has just discovered that her husband is having an affair. He counters that yes, he has been cheating on her for years, but remember that time a decade ago when she forgot his birthday? The wife’s oversight might be true in the historical sense, but clearly not helpful at the present moment and no excuse for his greater misdeeds.

So is Obama the right person, the Prayer Breakfast the right place, and our current conflict with radical Islam the right occasion to bring up the sins of a relatively small number of Christians operating largely independently of any central control over 800 years ago? I would have to answer no on all accounts. In fact, that Obama did so shows a great lack of understanding of our present crisis.

Do we think ISIS cares about all the times in history that Muslims have murdered Christians and Jews, or even other Muslims? Of course not; they are too busy beheading all enemies of their radical totalitarian ideology.

Can we imagine FDR bringing up America’s past sins of slavery and broken treaties with Native Americans, just as he was trying to inspire Americans to fight the Japanese and Germans? Didn’t think so.

President Obama is the wrong messenger to get Christianity off its supposed “high horse,” just as Mitt Romney proved an ineffective messenger in championing the middle class. Here are just a few other statements from the president that provide the context by which Christians now judge his remarks.

Obama on Islam:

“The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam.”

“Islam has always been part of America.”

“As a student of history, I know civilization’s debt to Islam.”

“Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance.”

Obama on Christianity:

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation.”

“We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.”

The list goes on. After so many statements downplaying or criticizing Christianity, with so many others appearing to celebrate and excuse Islam, many Christians aren’t cutting him any more slack.

My fourth and final point about the failure of Obama’s Crusades comparison is this: bad historical analysis runs the risk of obscuring truth by promoting cynicism and moral relativism.

Gopnik claims:

We welcome complexity because it makes the moral points stand out more clearly against their background… The President’s point turned out to be not just exactly right but profoundly right: no group holds the historical moral high ground, and no one ever will. But this is not because a moral high ground doesn’t exist. It’s because we’re all still climbing.

Again, I would counter that while no group has an absolute monopoly on morality, there is such a thing as a historical moral high ground. No one is perfect, but this does not mean we are all the same.

During World War II, the United States was not perfect. We dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, killing tens of thousands of civilians, and humiliatingly interned in camps thousands of Japanese-Americans thought to be untrustworthy simply because of their race. Even as we fought dictatorship abroad, we denied African-Americans and women equal rights at home.

Did we still occupy the moral high ground? Absolutely. We were fighting an enemy in Japan that carried out the infamous Rape of Nanking and had imperial designs on all of Asia. In Nazi Germany, we fought an enemy that systematically killed eleven million innocent people, including six million Jews. After the war, instead of exacting revenge, we invested millions of dollars in rebuilding both countries to help the Japanese and German people whose soldiers had just claimed thousands of our own.

Despite all our mistakes during the Cold War, we most certainly occupied the moral high ground in our fight against the Soviet Union and its dehumanizing communist ideology. Only one side of this fight had to build walls to keep their people in.

Despite all our mistakes in the Middle East, we most certainly occupy the moral high ground in the current struggle against ISIS, which isn’t saying much, as they seem determined to discover ever deeper lows.

Yes, we are all “still climbing,” but some of us have come further than others, and it is important to recognize this. Societies that still condone female genital mutilation, pedophilia, torture, and draconian limitations on individual freedom have much further to go. We should assist them so far as we can, while resisting any and all attempts to erode the liberties we have fought so hard to secure.

Occasionally, calling to mind the sins of our ancestors provides a valuable inoculation against self-righteousness, as well as hope for those who would like to make similar social and political progress. But sometimes it does nothing more than provide our enemies with ammunition to use against us. It creates ambiguity and doubt, when what we really need are moral clarity and resolve.

Finally, some parting thoughts on recent events:

Even as I wrote this post, two things have happened that tragically serve to illustrate some of my points. First, ISIS beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians. In the official Obama administration statement, these brave martyrs were identified merely as “citizens.” The fact that they were Christians who died for their faith was not mentioned.

Second, more information has come out about the man who killed three Muslim young people in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. While many in the media were eager for a story featuring a Christian extremist as the bad guy and clamoring for a hate crime investigation, the killer has been identified as a militant liberal atheist. This counters the pervasive fallacy that religion is the primary cause of violence both past and present, one that will require a separate blog post to refute.

Why You Need to See Dinesh D’Souza’s “America”

Go see Dinesh D’Souza’s movie “America: Imagine the World without Her.”

See it as soon as you can. Take your kids. Take your parents. Take your conservative and religious friends who likely already believe its message. Take your liberal and secular friends who may need more convincing. It is truly a film everyone should experience.

At the end of the two hours, if you feel you would have been better served enduring endless fart jokes next door in “Tammy,” I will personally reimburse your eleven dollars and buy you a new bag of popcorn.

Scratch that last. I’m a teacher trying to get through the lean months of summer, and do not have the funds to make this guarantee. But you get the idea.

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People who know me might assume that I have always been a church-going, dyed-in-the-wool Republican, but this could not be further from the truth. When I was sixteen I read Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian and the equally anti-Christian Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, swallowing them hook, line, and sinker. When I was eighteen, my dad told me he would cut me off financially if I paid to see Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. I went anyway.

I have always thought that if you are going to believe something, you should not be afraid to hear the other side’s best arguments. If your deeply-held convictions fall apart at the slightest challenge, then they could not have been that solid to begin with. Sometimes in order to believe, we must first doubt.

We don’t gain anything from echo chambers. We need to engage head-on with the other side, which is why I have so much admiration for Dinesh D’Souza. I even feel a sort of begrudging respect for Bill Ayers for at least engaging D’Souza in open debates, most recently on Fox News with Megyn Kelly. At least liberal professors are not afraid to say what they really mean and what they intend to do, unlike liberal politicians.

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There is an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. An immigrant himself, D’Souza is the perfect person to answer America’s critics. He does not have to imagine a world without America; he has lived in one.

D’Souza begins with a hypothetical scenario almost too possible to contemplate: What if George Washington had been hit by a sniper’s bullet and the Revolution had died with him? Would the world be a better or worse place for America’s absence?

Through interviews with activists and scholars on the Left, D’Souza presents the five main indictments against America being told every day in high schools and colleges around the nation. They are:

  1. We stole the land from the Native Americans.
  2. We stole half of Mexico in the Mexican-American War.
  3. We stole the labor of the Africans through slavery.
  4. We steal the resources of foreign nations through our imperialistic misadventures.
  5. We steal from our own people through the greed of our capitalist economy.

Basically, America is a country built on theft. As Michelle Obama said, we are “downright mean.” We are not one nation of free men and women, but rather a system of victims and victimizers, oppressors and oppressed. These stories are told by people like Howard Zinn to make us feel shame for our country’s sins, not pride in her virtues. This shame has a purpose—to win our consent in the progressive’s dream to re-make America (to “fundamentally transform America,” as Obama has said), instead of trying to restore her core values of faith and industriousness.

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I will leave it to the film to articulate these ideas, and to D’Souza to convince you that they are oversimplified and misleading. Of course America has made mistakes. We are just as prone to greed and folly as anyone. The difference is our commitment to the idea that in America, “you write the script to your own life.” As Bono notes, we are the only nation that is also an idea. This freedom to chart your own course is the essence of the American Dream and the reason we remain the hope for the world.

Critics may accuse D’Souza of whitewashing the darker chapters in American history, but this is not the case. He simply puts them in their proper historical context. Throughout world history, most states and empires have gained their wealth though conquest and plunder. Look at the Vikings, the Mongols, and the Islamic caliphates. Slavery is, unfortunately, as old as civilization itself, and greed as old as humanity.

The Native Americans took each other’s land through territorial conflicts for centuries before we arrived, killing and enslaving as they went. 3,500 free blacks in the South owned over 10,000 slaves. While many other countries had slaves, we were the only one to fight a war to end it. Instead of plundering their resources, we lost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan to give others a chance at freedom (as well as try to advance what we thought were our self-interests). Our capitalist system has enriched the lives of not just our own citizens, but lifted millions out of poverty in India and China.

None of this is said to excuse or minimize the atrocities in our past. America is not perfect. Like every other nation, we have our faults and we have made our fair share of mistakes. The difference is that our Founding Fathers created a framework in the Declaration of Independence that could be used over time to remedy these faults, bringing our actions ever more in line with our ideals.

Despite our imperfections, millions continue to come to our country each year, crossing oceans and risking everything to seek their chance at the American Dream. In what other nation could Frederick Douglass, born a slave, meet with the President of the United States? In what other nation could Madame C.J. Walker, the child of former slaves, become the first self-made female millionaire?

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Every year when I teach nationalism, I start by asking how many of my students (10th graders) are proud to be American. Usually about half raise their hands. Many have already accepted the lie that America is no more exceptional than any other nation, and that the United States is synonymous with stupidity and greed. This revisionist history cannot continue to be pushed without severe political and cultural consequences.

See this movie to celebrate America’s greatness, but more importantly to remember what is at stake. You won’t be sorry you did.

Last night, my husband and I saw it with about thirty others. When the credits began to roll, no one got up from their seats. It was almost as if we were afraid of the enormous responsibility awaiting us once we left the theatre, and not yet done being inspired. D’Souza quotes Ronald Reagan’s observation that ours is the only national anthem that ends in a question:

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

How we answer this question will depend in part on how well we understand the truth about our own history, and how effectively we communicate this truth to our children. Reagan also said:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Your Contraception Is Your Responsibility

Women can buy houses on their own. They can purchase cars without help from their bosses. Women can grocery shop, book vacations, save for retirement, and in general run their family’s finances—as most do—without assistance from their employers.

But they can’t purchase birth control on their own.

At least, this is the message of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s dissenting opinion, following Hobby Lobby’s recent victory in the Supreme Court.

She writes: “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.”

But since when does not paying for something mean denying access to it? By this logic, my employer has been denying me access to gym memberships, home security systems, and food, all of which can be viewed as more essential to good health than birth control.

Or are women just uniquely helpless in this, the most personal aspect of their lives? They can’t have it unless someone else pays for it?

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Whose responsibility is it to pay for a woman’s birth control: her own, her employer’s, or the government’s? If reproduction and contraception are individual rights, as liberals claim, then they are also individual responsibilities.

Rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin; you can’t have one without the other. When I was a child, my parents could prevent me from having certain things simply by refusing to pay for them. Now that I am responsible enough to make my own money, I have the right to use it as I please, even on things my parents might not support.

When you make government or your employer the “parent” by demanding they pay for something you could get yourself, you are also making yourself a child, beholden to their better judgment. “You can’t tell me what to do with my body!” liberals cry. “But you have to pay for it!”

Demanding something as a right while denying it as a responsibility is the essence of adolescent petulance.

The Hobby Lobby ruling has set off a heated debate that appears to pit women’s rights against religious rights, but this narrative overlooks the responsibility side of the equation. Women did not lose any rights as a result of the decision. Congress should never have passed a law (Obamacare) making employers 100% responsible for their employee’s birth control choices, including methods that can be seen as ending a human life after it has already been created. Whether one views certain forms of birth control as moral or immoral, contraception itself remains the responsibility of the individual.

Liberals have been quoting Ginsburg’s blistering dissent, but her arguments miss this basic point. She writes: “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults…

As the woman’s autonomous choice, it is also her autonomous responsibility. It is extremely unlikely that Hobby Lobby’s female employees will be forced to bear unwanted children as a result of this decision. Their policies still cover sixteen forms of contraception, just not the ones with the potential to prevent an already-formed embryo from implanting in the uterine wall. And if they want any of the remaining four, they can pay for them. Hobby Lobby is not trying to stop them.

She continues: Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community…”

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The Catholic Church was already granted an exemption as part of the law. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled that you do not forfeit your freedom of conscience when you form a business.

There is a reason the First Amendment protects freedom of religion together with freedom of speech. Our Founding Fathers understood that one’s freedom of religion is not confined to worship alone, but extends to other areas of life as well. Hobby Lobby is not taking any action to prevent employees from using birth control. They simply don’t want to be compelled to pay for (and by extension participate in) an act they find morally questionable.

This is their right. Once I turned twenty-one, my parents could no longer stop me from consuming alcohol. But I didn’t demand they supply me with weekly stockpiles of liquor.

Ginsburg continues: “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”

Many life-saving surgeries are also equivalent to (or greater than) a month’s full-time pay, but Obamacare does not require these to be covered at no additional cost. Claiming contraception as an essential preventative service requires us to understand pregnancy as a life-threatening condition. This may be the case for some women, who still have many options under this ruling, but certainly not the majority. If pregnancy were an illness to be prevented at any cost, like colon cancer, people would not spend tens of thousands of dollars intending it as a result.

In the meantime, insurance companies have raised co-pays on essential prescription drugs needed to keep people alive in order to cover the costs of providing “free” birth control. Nothing is ever truly “free.” Someone always pays. In the case of contraception, it should be the one using it.

Perhaps Ginsberg’s strongest argument is that people do not have an unlimited right to religion. She writes: “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…

Fortunately, no one is claiming religion as an unlimited right to refuse to comply with the law. In fact, this was specifically stated in the majority opinion. In this particular case, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no compelling government interest in forcing Hobby Lobby to provide four particular types of contraception that can act as abortifacents. It did not grant employers an unlimited mandate to impose their religious views on employees.

“The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,” Ginsberg worries. A liberal friend of mine concurred, taking to Facebook to express his concern over the “slippery slope” that might allow employers and organizations to pick and choose which services are covered and which are not. They would have the power to become “judge and jury” over the individual’s every health problem. He listed Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes as conditions employers could claim were the result of individual choices, and thus not subject to coverage.

I was amazed at how well this argument summarized the case against government-run healthcare, which remains the real “slippery slope.” If society has to foot the bill for your healthcare costs, they will naturally demand increasing control over your healthcare decisions. When you give government the responsibility to pay for what happens to your body, you also surrender the right to control it.

Finding God in a Walk on the Beach

It is 6:30 in the morning, and I find myself in a hotel room at the beach with five relatives sure to sleep another three hours and a baby who refuses to sleep another minute. So I get ready quietly and do the only thing I can think to do—take the baby on a walk.

I have never been to Myrtle Beach before, and so I don’t know exactly what to expect, but we soon find the boardwalk and begin to walk briskly along the concrete pathway. In a couple hours I know it will be teaming with tourists, venders, beach bums, and families of all races and origins. But for now it is empty save the few die-hard joggers eager to beat the day’s heat.

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This means I can talk playfully and giggle at my sweet little boy without too many awkward stares, and so I start to engage in the kind of one-sided conversation mothers around the world all must know.

Me: “Look, Sam! We’re at the beach! Aren’t you excited?”

Sam: Big grin, smile, coo.

It doesn’t take long for our dialogue and my thoughts to shift from the material to the spiritual.

Me: “Sam, can you believe that the same God who made your precious little body also made this big, enormous ocean? Aren’t you a little miracle? Isn’t God’s love amazing?”

Sam: Big grin, smile, coo.

Suddenly, the melody of a song comes to my mind, and I began to sing its words to my baby:

“Christ is risen from the dead/ Trampling over death by death/ Come awake, come awake!/ Come and rise up from the grave/ Oh, death, where is your sting?/ Oh, hell, where is your victory?/Oh, church, come stand in the light/ Our God is not dead/ He’s alive! He’s alive!”

Singing this song brings tears to my eyes. It reminds me of the first time I heard those words. It was Easter Sunday of this year, the day Sam was baptized. For the past week, my life had been turned upside down. I thought I had been prepared—as prepared as possible, at least—for the birth of my second child. Nothing could have readied me for the events of March 25th, 2013.

After a day of excruciating and unproductive labor, I had to make the painful decision to have another C-section. By this point, my mind and body were exhausted. I spent the entire surgery squeezing my eyes shut to block out the bright lights of the OR while trying unsuccessfully not to vomit, a task made more difficult by the oxygen mask being pressed over my face. “Is he out?” I asked at one point. “Yes,” someone said. My husband’s eyes were filled with worry. “Why isn’t he crying?” one of us asked. We were both thinking it.

From the very beginning, we knew something was wrong. His color was not pinking up. In fact, he was turning blue. His body was not getting oxygen. There was something wrong with his heart.

I didn’t cry in the recovery room. Instead, I felt the most remarkable feeling of reassurance. I later learned that my husband had been convinced our son would die. He revealed to me that he had already started to think about where he would bury him in the little cemetery plot by our house. But in those first uncertain hours, this knowledge came to me: “He will be okay. He will live. It will take a surgery to fix what he has, but he will make it.”

For what seemed like an eternity, we waited for the paramedics to prepare Sam for transport. The hospital I’d delivered in lacked a NICU, but there was one across town. The doctor wisely decided that instead of being transported to Roanoke Memorial, Sam needed to be taken to UVA Medical Center as soon as possible. Before he left, I was allowed to reach through the little plastic circle and touch my son’s hand. It would be another four days before I could hold him.

Still, I didn’t cry. I wouldn’t cry until the next night, when I heard a baby crying. Somewhere another mother was holding her newborn. Why was I stuck here recovering from my surgery, unable to even hear my baby?

Once I was able to join my husband at UVA, we were filled in on the particulars of Sam’s condition. He had been born with a congenital heart defect called transposition. His pulmonary artery and aorta were switched, resulting in a lack of oxygen-rich blood to his body.  They had stabilized him by putting a hole in his heart to allow the blood to mix, but it would take a day-long open-heart surgery to correct it.

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Sam was baptized on Easter Sunday with a little vial of sterile water in the NICU at UVA because we were not sure he was going to make past his surgery on Wednesday. Except, for some reason, I was. I had faith in the doctor, one of the best pediatric cardiac surgeons in the country. But I knew that it was the power of prayer that had gotten him this far, and that God would take him the rest of the way. We later learned that the transport truck had broken down en route to UVA and a 2 hour transport had taken 4 hours. When Sam arrived in the NICU, he had been more dead than alive, his oxygen saturation hovering in the single digits. But already thousands of people were praying for him from around the country, including our community in Roanoke, the students at the University of Dallas where my sister is a student, and the students at a small school in Minnesota that my mother had hosted for a football game.

Sam’s surgery was a success. He made an amazing recovery and is a great baby. We decided to call our son Sam (his first name is William) after learning that it means “God hears us” and reading this passage during his surgery: “And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart, and all those signs came to pass that day (1 Samuel 10:9 KJV).” In the bible, Samuel’s mother was barren. She prayed to God for a child, and when he answered her prayer, she dedicated his life to God’s service.

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When I heard the words to that song in church that Easter morning, tears streamed down my face uncontrollably. I wasn’t crying because I was worried for my son’s life. I was crying tears of joy and hope at Christ’s resurrection. God’s Son died and came back to life. In a similar way, I knew my son was going to be given a second chance at life. The reality of Easter hit me so powerfully that morning that all I could do was cry.

Which brings us back to the beach. Sam has already dropped off to sleep, lulled by the constant motion of the stroller and the salty sea air. He doesn’t see me crying all over again in gratitude for his life as I sing these words, to myself now:

“Christ is risen from the dead/ Trampling over death by death/ Come awake, come awake!/ Come and rise up from the grave/ Oh, death, where is your sting?/ Oh, hell, where is your victory?/Oh, church, come stand in the light/ Our God is not dead/ He’s alive! He’s alive!”

For the second time since Sam was born, I am overcome with the experience of God’s amazing power and love. I realize that if we could ever really comprehend the blessing of God’s love and his incredible gift of life, we would be too overwhelmed to even go about our days.

I remember my dad telling me a story about his friend’s three-year-old son seeing the ocean for the first time. The child was so filled with awe upon gazing at the seemingly infinite sea that he dropped to his knees and lifted his tiny hands upward in a gesture of worship.

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Religion comes naturally to children, just as worship comes naturally to mankind. You could almost say we are programmed for it. The earliest human societies painted designs on caves and carved figurines out of stone. Even atheists and secularists who cannot abide the thought of worshipping a deity direct their worship elsewhere—the state, the environment, science.

You cannot stand gazing out at the beach—observing the curvature of the Earth, feeling the wind and Sun and water—without experiencing the Spirit on some level. Perhaps the millions of people who flock to the shores each summer are actually seeking spiritual renewal as much as material relaxation. Perhaps they are pilgrims without even knowing it.

Proving God’s existence is like proving the existence of wind. You can feel it and see it working on people and objects, but you cannot observe it in isolation. The wind is the Holy Spirit, calling us to the water’s edge. God’s love is vast and eternal like the ocean, connecting all things. And Jesus Christ is the Sun, whose brilliance warms our bodies and souls and whose resurrection renews our hope each day in rising.

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