Archives for posts with tag: biology

Let’s begin with the ‘who’ rather than the ‘why.’ In case you haven’t noticed—and it seems some in the Republican Party either have not, or resent—America is getting darker. My own family is probably representative of the broader American landscape. Four years ago we were a bunch of white people. Today, my wife and I are proud parents of a black 21-month-old daughter. We just had a wonderful visit with our two nieces whose Mexican-American skin is a few shades darker than ours. Welcome to modern-day America.

It is no secret Barack Obama carried the growing ‘minority’ vote. Neither is it shocking, at least not to anyone who knows anything about the culture of ‘darker’ Americans. But it was not the black and Hispanic vote alone that carried Barack Obama to victory. He also won because of strong support among younger voters, many of whom are Christian. To older generations of Christians, many of whom are staunchly ‘religious right,’ this latter category comes as a surprise—or if not a surprise, at least with perplexity. So what do these groups have in common? Why did they vote predominantly for Barack Obama?

As a good Orthodox Christian, I’ll begin by answering apophatically (that is, before explaining why, I will explain why not). The stereotypical reason given for the minority—and even the young vote—is that ‘these people’ are lazy. They want government handouts. They don’t want to work for their money. I saw many ‘jokes’ around the internet like this one: “I predict Obama will take the early lead in the polls until all the Republicans get off work to vote.” This is only funny—to people, unlike me, who think it is funny—because deep down lots of people actually believe there is truth to it. Of course, it is couched in terms of a joke, but jokes are only funny inasmuch as they reflect some sort of perceived reality. Yet this answer is not only oversimplified and stereotyped, but wrong. It is the why not.

In reality, many, if not most, ‘darker’ Americans work hard for their money. In fact, I personally know many of these Americans who work longer hours in physically more strenuous jobs than me for half the pay or less. And then they send half their money to family in other countries so they can buy something more than a one room (note: one room, not one bedroom) house. I know many younger Americans who are far from lazy, but who have rejected the workaholic attitude of their parents’ generation. They actually listened to those sermons priests like me give at funerals—no one says on their deathbed they wish they worked more hours, spent more time at the office; rather, they tend to wish they had spent more time with their family. These young people’s parents thought their children would be best served by money, opportunity, and advantage. Meanwhile, all the kids wanted was a mom and dad who loved them, spent time with them, and were happily married. Those things do not happen when you are a workaholic. Many in the younger generation are not lazy—they simply value some things more than the almighty dollar.

So let’s get to the real reason these ‘darker’ and ‘younger’ and often ‘Christian’ Americans voted for Barack Obama. We need look no farther than the President’s inspiring Election Night speech. Here are two powerful quotes, representative of the real reason Obama was re-elected:

“What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.

Near the conclusion of his speech, President Obama spoke these powerful and true words:

We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states.”

These concepts are the real reason President Obama carried a large percentage of the minority vote, and not an insignificant number of the young Christian vote. But again, we must ask why. The reasons are both religious and cultural, yet they have this in common: all of these voting sectors are tired of the old Republican mantras of “rugged individualism” and American exceptionalism. Young Christians tend to reject these notions on biblical grounds. Minorities do not resonate with these concepts because they do not reflect their reality. Not to mention, young voters of all types increasingly understand that while the Emperor might not have no clothes, he often dresses as Jerry Jeff Walker likes his women: just a little on the trashy side. For those who do not understand this metaphor, I will say it in plain English: the younger generation realizes America makes a lot of mistakes, yet maintains an annoying arrogance. But back to the young Christians and minorities.

Since I am a ‘religious leader’ I will begin with the reason young Christians support Obama far more than older Christians. The highlighted passages from his speech last night have a biblical ring to them. When Obama spoke about “obligations” and “responsibilities,” I immediately thought  of Jesus saying in Luke 12:48: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” Ironically, this passage was part of the assigned reading today in the Orthodox Church—I read it this morning at Matins.

When the President pointed out “we are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions” I thought of Dr Nicolae Roddy’s poignant phrase when he was at our parish for our Bible Lecture Series. He said, “When God says ‘I AM’ (Exodus 3:14) it also implies ‘you are not.’” As Fr Paul Tarazi, another guest at a previous BLS, once said: “Only God looks good with an ego” (the Greek translation of Exodus 3:14 reads “ego eimi”).

Many young Christians are tired of the perceived “I built it” attitude of the Republican Party (whether that is their attitude or not, you can debate—but it is the perception). Not only is such an attitude anti-biblical, it does not reflect reality. None of us built anything on our own. And young people are well aware these days of the science behind their genesis. As the aforementioned Fr Paul once pointed out to his anxiously over-obsessed teenager, who was taking a biology class: “Son, just remember, 16 years ago you were not even a sperm in my testicle.” Armed with this factual information, how could any of us honestly think “I built it”? And is it not revealing, as Fr Paul also has pointed out, that “I” is the only capitalized pronoun in the English language?

i have four young children (no, i purposely left “i” in lower case to make a point, Microsoft Word—quit auto ‘correcting’ me). Their mother and I have changed many diapers, interrupted countless hours of sleep, spent more money than I care to imagine on them, and have made numerous other sacrifices so they may grow and thrive—with no guarantee they will turn out as we hope, mind you. I better never hear them say “I built it.” The hell you did! You would be nothing without me. I would be nothing without my parents. None of us even decided to come into this world. If my children offend me with this type of talk, how much do we offend our heavenly Father with such an attitude?

Potential religious reasons aside, minorities understand Obama’s talk about “obligations” and “responsibilities” and the “sum being greater than the individual parts” because this is their reality. I honestly do not know a single ‘successful’ (in the world’s eyes) minority in this country who is not where they are because of sacrifices made by others on their behalf, because of cooperation and collaboration. For most of them, and for a variety of reasons, the ‘nuclear family’ is not the norm. I am unaware of any minorities who are not where they are today because of grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Most minorities understand obligations, responsibilities, and the sum being greater than the individuals intuitively and naturally. They do not take for granted what most of us white folks assume: a high school diploma, a college education if we want, and the general benefit of majority status. No one questions whether or not we whites are ‘American.’ No one asks to see our birth certificate. No one asks about my three white kids, “Oh, where did you get them from?” No one assumes we white people are related because we are white, as many assume of our black daughter and other black people we hang out with from time to time.

And one final word to those who are concerned many younger Christians and minorities—or even President Obama—are ‘socialist.’ These aforementioned groups are, by and large, no more socialist than the Tea Party is fascist. Sure, there are some socialists who vote Democrat, just as there are some who vote Republican and believe certain things about ‘legitimate rape.’ But neither of these two extremes represents the respective party. Most young, Democrat Christians and minorities do not want the state to control everything—they simply want us to collectively pick up the slack so our sum is greater than the individual parts. Why? Because that is how they (correctly) understand the Bible. Why? Because the sum being greater than the parts reflects reality. To many young Christians and the vast majority of minorities, Barack Obama’s stated vision of America resonates with them more than anything they have heard lately from the Republican Party. And that, my friends, is the real reason younger Christians and minorities carried President Obama to re-election.

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The first half of the 17th chapter of Genesis deals with the covenant between God and Abraham and his descendants.  The sign of this covenant is the circumcision of Abraham, his household, and his progeny.  Below I have highlighted three important aspects of this covenant.

Age

In verse 12, God commands the male children to be circumcised on the 8th day.  Obviously, this is at a time when the child is not able to choose for himself whether to be circumcised.  We learn from this a vital lesson that Jesus later taught His own disciples: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you…” (John 15:16).  Accordingly, in both the Jewish and traditional Christian tradition, a child is circumcised (Jewish) or baptized (Christian) as an infant.  They are put in covenant with God first, and then as they grow older are taught God’s commandments.  This is where the Jews get the name “bar mitzvah,” which means “son of the commandment.” 

So for neither Jews nor traditional Christians is circumcision or baptism seen as the end, but rather as a new life, “…that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16).  You can now see from the full quote of Jesus in John 15:16 the consistency between Genesis 17 and Jesus’ teaching.  We are chosen by God, before we even have a choice in the matter, but only so we may go forth and bear fruit through following God’s commandments.

Sign

Another significant facet to circumcision is the obvious mark circumcision leaves on the one who was circumcised.  This mark is important because in the ancient world slaves were known by their mark.  In the Bible, it became common to refer to a believer in God as a “slave of God” (often weakly translated into English as “servant of God”).  This terminology became the common phrase used by Paul to refer to himself in the introduction of his epistles.  Obviously, the physical mark and the terminology used indicates we are “owned” by God and are, thus, accountable to Him.  It is our responsibility to live by the rules of His house, and we are to have no other master.

Biology

Circumcision, as I understand it, was fairly unique to the Jews.  Certain other societies practiced it, but even today only an estimated 30% of males are circumcised, and the vast majority (if not all) of those have been influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition.  From a biological standpoint, what I find interesting about circumcision is God commanding the people to do something contrary to their biology.  In other words, God is asking males to do something that biologically changes them from the way they were born. 

The reason I find this fascinating is because the Bible—and most especially the teachings of Jesus—teaches us to behave contrary to our biological impulses.  For example, we have a biological impulse promoting selfishness, or an ability to survive.  In Scripture, however, you are taught not to be selfish, to give freely and generously to others in need.  Another example: biologically speaking, we intuitively know to stay away from people who are unkind towards us—it is a survival mechanism.  Yet, Jesus taught us to love those who hate us.  Many more examples could be given, but I think you see the point.  Most of what Jesus taught us to do is overcome our biological impulses, which is essentially what Paul means when he speaks about living according to the will of the Spirit rather than according to the desires of the flesh.

These three facets of circumcision are certainly not the only significant aspects of the covenant in Genesis 17, but to me they stand out as important principles that play a role throughout the Bible.