I came across the Hope Clinic in Fallbrook, California, and saw some information on its website about abortion pill reversal (APR), which uses progesterone to reverse the effects of the first chemical abortion drug, mifepristone. I knew I had a 24-hour window before it was too late, so I rushed to Hope Clinic the next day. The women at the clinic were so supportive and loving that I quickly felt at ease. When they gave me the ultrasound, I began sobbing. My baby was OK! My surprise quickly turned to excitement and joy, and mentally I began planning what was next. Now that I knew she was OK, I would do anything to preserve my precious baby’s life.
When I first heard that abortion pill reversal (APR) was controversial, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that states like Colorado are fighting to prevent mothers and fathers from learning about, much less using, something that could save their unborn children. I know better than anyone because APR saved my daughter’s life.
Just over a year ago, I was stuck in a toxic, abusive relationship with my boyfriend of five years whom I thought I was going to marry. Then I discovered I was pregnant.
My boyfriend pressured me to have an abortion, so in fear, I went to the local Planned Parenthood to learn about my options. I was almost eight weeks along, and I really wanted to keep my baby.
The entire experience at Planned Parenthood worsened my fears. The clinic staffers said chemical abortion was my best bet because of how far along I was. For those who don’t know, chemical abortion involves a two-drug regimen. The first drug, mifepristone, essentially starves the unborn baby of nutrients, and the second drug, misoprostol, helps expel the deceased unborn baby from the womb.
My anxiety was heightened when the clinic staffers told me that once I took the first pill, there was nothing in the world I could do to reverse the chemical abortion. Even though I had tears in my eyes, they didn’t bother to ask if I even wanted more time to consider the pill.
They monitored me as I took the pill, and then they sent me on my way. I spent that entire night crying without any support from my boyfriend. The Planned Parenthood staffers’ warning that there was nothing I could do to reverse my decision haunted me, yet deep down I had a glimmer of hope. What if they were wrong? What if the pill didn’t work right away and there were other resources out there for me?
I began researching my options and looking up places with family members that offered ultrasounds to see what, if anything, the first pill had done to my unborn daughter.
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By Jon Bloom — 2 years ago
So, what does deconstruction even mean? It means different things in different contexts. It is a postmodern philosophical label that has been adopted by current and former evangelicals to sometimes mean navigating a faith crisis, to sometimes mean identifying harmful cultural influences that distort the true gospel, to sometimes mean questioning and rejecting traditional evangelical doctrines and authority figures, or to sometimes mean departing the Christian faith altogether.
“Deconstruction” is a term that has increasingly been used in evangelical circles, especially over the past decade. But it is a confusing term, because there’s no single or simple definition for “deconstruction.” It has different meanings in different contexts. It has technical meanings in certain academic contexts and various informal meanings when current and former evangelicals use it to describe their (or others’) faith experiences.
It’s not surprising that many are asking some form of, “What does ‘deconstruction’ even mean?” It’s an important question and needs clarifying answers — certainly more answers than I can adequately cover here. But I hope to provide something of an introductory overview.
First, we’ll examine briefly where the term, “deconstruction,” came from, so we can, second, understand the primary ways evangelicals are using the term today.
Where Did ‘Deconstruction’ Come From?
In the 1960s, a French philosopher named Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) began to advocate for a postmodern philosophy of language and its relationship to our conceptions of meaning that he called “deconstruction.” It is an abstruse philosophy and notoriously difficult (some say impossible) to summarize. In fact, Derrida himself refused to summarize deconstruction, claiming that his whole life’s work was a summary of his philosophy.
Nevertheless, I’ll take a shot at summarizing it as I currently understand it — and stick with me, because knowing something of where “deconstruction” comes from will hopefully give us insight into why some Christians have adopted and adapted it to describe their experiences — and why many find it confusing.
A fundamental assumption undergirding Derrida’s philosophy is that humans, through biological evolution, developed the capacity to impose psychological constructs of meaning upon their world as a survival mechanism. In other words, meaning — as in the ultimate meaning of things — is a human psychological creation, not a discovery or divine revelation of absolute truth.
Therefore, deconstruction asserts that human language at best communicates, not absolute truth, but how a certain individual conceives of truth at a certain moment in time, in the contexts of his cultural, political, religious, environmental, and experiential influences.
Therefore, deconstruction asserts that philosophers (or theologians) consult written works of the past in vain to discover absolute truth or meaning, since all they’re encountering are other authors’ constructs of truth or meaning. And not only that, but the more distant a reader is culturally, linguistically, and historically from an author, the less the reader will understand what the author actually had in mind when he used terms like truth, justice, good, evil, etc.
And therefore, the philosophy of deconstruction asserts that in an effort to understand as much as possible what an author actually meant by the language he used, sophisticated methods of textual criticism must be employed to deconstruct the author’s words in order to decipher the conceptual constructs that shaped that author’s understanding of truth and meaning.
Let me try to simplify it even more. If I understand Derrida correctly, deconstruction is
A literary philosophy arguing that we’re wrong to assume that by merely reading an author’s words we can understand something about absolute truth, since our conception of truth — our constructs of what everything means — will be significantly different from the author’s; and
Deconstruction is a method of literary criticism that takes apart and analyzes an author’s use of language in effort to discern his construct of meaning.
For Derrida, there is no meaning outside the text of a philosopher’s written work — no absolute truth that the writer is shedding light on for the reader. There’s only the writer’s construct of meaning, of truth, represented in the text he wrote.
Which means that there is no absolute truth inside the philosopher’s text either. Just a reflection of how the author interpreted what the world means. Which, according to Derrida, is what meaning is for all of us: a human psychological construct shaped by multiple influences.
Why Have Christians Adopted ‘Deconstruction’?
So, why have Christians adopted the term “deconstruction” from a philosophy based on principles of philosophical naturalism? I think we can make a connection from something theologian Kevin Vanhoozer has written about Derrida:
The motive behind Derrida’s strategy of undoing [deconstruction] stems from his alarm over illegitimate appeals to authority and exercises of power. The belief that one has reached the single correct Meaning (or God, or “Truth”) provides a wonderful excuse for damning those with whom one disagrees as either “fools” or “heretics.” . . . Neither Priests, who supposedly speak for God, nor Philosophers, who supposedly speak for Reason, should be trusted; this “logocentric” claim to speak from a privileged perspective (e.g., Reason, the Word of God) is a bluff that must be called, or better, “deconstructed.” (Is There a Meaning in this Text?, 21–22)
Over the decades since Derrida introduced his philosophy of deconstruction, the term has worked its way into the common vernacular where it now has come to generally mean “a critical dismantling of tradition and traditional modes of thought.”
By Scott Yenor — 2 years ago
Paracelsus, the pseudonymous author of First Do No Harm, argues that the American medical system is profoundly and perhaps irretrievably broken. The original Paracelsus, who also used that pseudonym, was a contemporary of Machiavelli and an acquaintance of Erasmus and Luther. He helped revolutionize medicine with modern methods, something that made him a critic of the medical establishment of his time. Our Paracelsus opposes today’s medical establishment for its corruption and stagnation.
Trust in American institutions is at an all-time low. Fewer Americans trust their elected officials, journalists, or business leaders to do what is best for the country than at any time in the past. Perhaps the decayed institutions do not deserve the public’s trust.
Congress seems unable to pass laws or budgets or to oversee the executive branch. Administrative bureaucracies are often captured by industries and narrow interests. The press no longer holds public officials accountable for misdeeds and lies; it promotes its own preferred narratives instead. Universities have become ideology factories. America’s military has waged several wars ineffectively; it has lower standards for admission than in the past. Our public schools achieve less at greater cost than in the past. No college professor honestly thinks students are better than they were a generation ago, nor are the college professors as well educated. Fewer movies have compelling plots or character development.
The list of decaying institutions includes our fake economy, the energy grid, factory farming, churches, air travel, public infrastructure, architecture, and our melting pot of assimilation. Our IQ scores are declining as are sperm counts, while obesity rises. Birth rates are cratering. Marriage formation lags. Americans are shorter on average than we were a generation ago. The list could go on.
Sports like golf and basketball, television, and the culinary arts are arguably better than in the past. Yet late republics specialize in just such bread and circuses. Decaying republics have good booze, tasty cheeses and crackers, and wonderful flat screens to watch girl-boss gladiators on demand.
Medics Under Fire
Could America’s medical system remain free from this general decay? Paracelsus, the pseudonymous author of First Do No Harm, argues that the American medical system is profoundly and perhaps irretrievably broken. The original Paracelsus, who also used that pseudonym, was a contemporary of Machiavelli and an acquaintance of Erasmus and Luther. He helped revolutionize medicine with modern methods, something that made him a critic of the medical establishment of his time. Our Paracelsus opposes today’s medical establishment for its corruption and stagnation.
Paracelsus treads on sacred ground when criticizing modern medicine. Founders of modern science like Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes thought the modern project would stand or fall by its ability to deliver ever greater improvements in health. Modern doctors are indeed able to do far more than their medieval predecessors. In many ways, the authoritative doctor stands in the modern mind as a representative of the entire modern scientific project, so an attack on medicine is an attack on the promise of modernity.
Medicine and science generally have delivered, in a manner of speaking. Life expectancies have indeed risen from 40 years old in 1880 to nearly 80 in 2015. Much of the credit for this rise goes to improved sanitation, better housing, better nutrition, the development of vaccines, and declines in maternal and infant mortality—all products of Baconian modern science. The health care system gets too much credit for the rise in life expectancy (life expectancy was almost 60 before by the 1920s), but it is a factor in rising life expectancies. No one appreciates medical advances more than I do. I would have been a widower had my wife given birth to our first in the 1850s. My daughter, diagnosed with stage four cancer when she was very young, is now a thriving adult cancer survivor: she would have been a goner in the 1920s or 1950s.
My positive experiences with the medical system happened well over a decade ago. Paracelsus dates our decayed medical system to around then. No system is perfect, of course. Anyone attempting to establish Paracelsus’s conclusions must present a “before” picture to compare against the decadent system. Paracelsus accomplishes this through a rich, mostly narrative clinical dissection of America’s system. According to Paracelsus, the goals of perpetuating the health system and providing quality health care are diverging, to the detriment of patient health. As more money and prestige come from perpetuating the system, the patient-centered goal of health is compromised. Health care’s glittering exterior (white-coated doctors, nice buildings, big staffs, lots of research money) masks an interior that is increasingly rotten and dysfunctional.
By John F. Hanna — 2 years ago
All of history is moving toward that moment when the Son presents to the Father a people who look to him and look like him. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3).
Deeply embedded within our societal conflicts are differing narratives and understandings of the human person. A human is image of God (Gen. 1:26–27, 5:1; 9:6; James 3:9), who degrades that image in sin by turning away from God and is called to restoration and renewal through Jesus Christ.
In those truths we have the narrative for our lives. We have identity, meaning, and morality.
Over time, other narratives of the human person have emerged that conflict with the image-bearing understanding of our humanity. In the story of the Sovereign Self, we escape from transcendent authority to make our own selves and our own meaning, which leaves us empty and can’t hold us together.
This is being replaced by the story of Oppressionism, a powerful individual and communal meaning-making narrative that redefines humanity and reality on authoritarian terms due to its rejection of God-given truth. What we need, both personally and communally, is restoration in the divine image to our God’s true, rightful, and liberating authority.
Story of the Sovereign Self
During the past few centuries, a counternarrative to the image-bearing narrative took hold: Christianity is unreasonable, anti-science, false, uptight, repressive, hypocritical, and a crutch for naive people.
Having discarded the original transcendent authority, modern people make their own meaning and morality. We define ourselves according to our own pleasure and will, as there’s no one we’re accountable to but ourselves. In the story of the Sovereign Self, rules are made to be broken and rule-makers mocked. We all grew up in that world. All of us. There are certain ways in which it’s hard for us to see how much it holds sway.
One of the ironies of the Sovereign Self is that its exalted view of the human person emerges from and depends on them being made in God’s image, which endowed humanity with inherent dignity and worth. A key shift in self-understanding was the conception of the human being as primarily possessing rights. Initially, those rights were recognized as coming from God, as in the American Declaration of Independence. Eventually, the rights-bearing individual replaced the image-bearing person, with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights making no mention of God at all.
The United States Supreme Court’s 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld the right to abortion, articulates the creed of the Sovereign Self: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
This notion of writing your own story, forming your own identity, and making your own meaning and morality is very palpable and powerful among us. Yet it doesn’t really provide cohesion. Doing “whatever” can leave people without sufficient meaning and identity and doesn’t give us a shared morality. It’s too empty and insubstantial, both individually and societally.
Story of Oppressionism
Now, something new has emerged and taken hold.
One commentator, Wesley Yang, calls it the “successor ideology.” It’s not separate from what we all grew up with but is in many ways an extension of it. At the same time, it’s also different. It’s an understanding of the world based on oppression. This narrative claims our entire world is marred, if not created, by oppression.
Where’s oppression? Everywhere. It has tainted every aspect of our lives, including our language. The meaning of your life is to oppose oppression. Morality is how you’re doing at this task. If you’re not actively opposing, you’re failing. “Silence is violence.” “If you’re not actively ‘antiracist,’ you’re racist.”
This is incredibly powerful and compelling. It provides a narrative, meaning, identity, and morality—a reason for living. It seemingly unites people in a shared purpose. It replaces the “whatever” of the Sovereign Self with something meaningful to pursue and dedicate our lives to, both individually and corporately.
And it can resonate not only with our humanity but also specifically with Christianity, which recognizes the pervasiveness of sin and its corrupting effects. In many respects, the human story is marred by oppression, which is all around us.
This perspective does sometimes identify actual oppression. And God hates oppression. He’s the One who sets the captives free. But this oppression view is different. It opposes Christian understanding, redefining humanity, including creation, sin, and redemption, in meaningful ways.