Politics Gone Viral

For many years, as a mother of four, I dreaded this time of year. The excitement and cheerful decorations of Christmas are long gone. The green and sunshine of spring seem a still distant hope. When the kids were little, these were long and grey winter days with no snow spent wishing for sledding and igloos to help burn off some of that seemingly endless childhood energy. The long and grey days with lots of snow were spent stuffing kids in and out of snow pants and wishing they would just stay inside. But my greatest dread was sickness. Inevitably, we would schedule a playdate, spend several lovely hours with friends only to have someone throw up all over one of the kids as we were saying goodbye. Okay, that never actually happened, but there did seem to be a proportional relationship between the frequency of playdates and the chances of my kids getting sick. In order to avoid whatever gut-spilling, bowel-emptying plague which was currently laying siege to our circle of friends, I would become hyper-vigilant regarding contact with others. If I saw the slightest hint of illness, runny nose, sneezing, unidentified ooze leaking from any orifice, I would yell “Retreat!” and hustle the kids off as quickly as possible, giving the offending orifice a wide berth large enough to drive the Titanic through…sideways.

This season of political divisiveness and strife has me living in the same nerve-fraying state of alertness. Politics has become a virus from which I would like to be immunized or, better yet, simply avoid all together. I know this is not the way of the informed citizen and might seem a complete shirking of my civic duties, but I’m ready to at least use a few sick days. It isn’t that I don’t care about the issues being debated. Quite the reverse. The stakes have never seemed so high: illegal immigration which encompasses national security, our legacy as a nation of immigrants, and the fate of those caught in the middle; racial equality; issues of religious freedom and tolerance; abortion; gun control; and the list goes on. All matters of vital importance and deserving of our attention. Nevertheless, on a fairly regular basis, I dream of leaving others to solve our problems and packing up husband, kids and dogs (sorry cat, you are on your own) and heading to hill country with a lifetime supply of dehydrated beef stroganoff and the complete works of Sir Conan Doyle.

I know that in the last two hundred plus years of our nation’s history there have been times of greater political division (e.g., the Civil War, Vietnam, etc.). But what I find so maddening about our current political divide, beyond the character assassinations and untethered vitriol on both sides of the aisle, is its ever-pervasive presence. Go to the movies or turn on the television and you’ll have some high school dropout lecturing you about the environment or gun control or the “wage gap.” Try to watch sports and you’ll have it turned into a political exercise about racial prejudice. You can’t even shop for school supplies or buy a cupcake without declaring your support or disapproval of one side or the other. Every corner of our culture has been infected with politics. In other words, there is no common ground. There is no place to meet in the middle and enjoy a laugh or well-played game. Everywhere is a pulpit and everyone a preacher.

I’m not denying anyone’s right to use whatever platform they have been given to propagate their particular perspective. I only ask they consider the context in which they do so. We watch movies for their artistic and entertainment value, not to be indoctrinated but to be enlightened and uplifted. We watch sports to be amazed and inspired, to feel a part of so larger than ourselves, not to be lectured and subdivided.

Maybe if we spent a little more time on common ground, rooting for the home team, laughing together, enjoying the same musical or theatrical experience, we might find the road to political compromise a little less rocky. Maybe those moments of shared experience will be just what the doctor ordered.

Civil Public Discourse and the Virtue of Open-mindedness


This past weekend I gave a presentation at the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics in Chicago.  My presentation was entitled “Civil Public Discourse and the Virtue of Open-mindedness.”  Here I will summarize the content of my talk.

Today there is a lot of anger and division about political and moral issues.  How do we demonstrate civil discourse in the midst of this? Our natural responses to conflict are essentially fight or flight.  We either withdraw from those with whom we disagree or we challenge them to show them where they are wrong.  But neither approach is constructive because withdrawal kills dialogue and challenge makes people defensive.  In neither case is civil discourse achieved.

I argue that the proper alternative is open-minded engagement.  I affirm Jason Baehr’s definition of open-mindedness as a willingness to transcend one’s default cognitive standpoint on an issue (The Inquiring Mind, Oxford, 2011).  A person who is open-minded in this sense displays a readiness to take seriously alternative perspectives and a willingness to welcome new evidence that could overturn their current beliefs.  Although people generally admire those who display such open-mindedness, it is difficult to do so because our current belief set is comfortable, open-mindedness challenges our intellectual pride, and open-mindedness requires moral work, specifically development and application of the virtues of self-control and patience.

Obviously, we should not be open-minded about everything (e.g., being open to the idea that my spouse is actually an alien or that rape is morally acceptable).  We should be foreclosed about many things.  But regarding issues where reasonable people disagree, we should strive to keep an open mind.  I argue that in such cases open-mindedness is an intellectual duty.  This is because each of us has many false beliefs, as evident in the fact that we all disagree with many people who are at least as intelligent and responsible as we are.  Other factors also guarantee that I have false beliefs about various issues, including the fallibility of my reasoning skills and perceptual abilities, as well as the fact that I don’t have the time or ability to thoroughly vet all of my beliefs.

Some other reasons to be open-minded are that this trait is critical for learning, and open-mindedness follows from the Golden Rule: I want others to seriously consider my truth claims and welcome the evidence I present to them, so I should do the same regarding others’ truth claims and arguments.

So how does one become more open-minded?  Here are three practical tips for transcending one’s default perspectives: (1) intentionally build your moral imagination, (2) practice active listening—resolve to speak less than your conversation partner, and (3) be Socratic—develop the art of questioning (which can also expose problems in others’ views).

Finally, it is important to remember that open-mindedness is effective for changing others’ minds.  This is because open-mindedness is disarming; it prevents others from becoming defensive.  It can also be contagious.  If you display an open mind, then your neighbor is more likely to do so also.  But even where minds don’t change, open-mindedness improves civility because it makes us less defensive, makes us feel less threatened by those with whom we disagree, and enhances our capacity for calm and patient dialogue.

Lent: A Love/Hate Relationship

Well, here we are again. Lent. As we slip through winter days of snow and ice, with Christmas decorations once again stored safely away, Lent has a way of sneaking up on me every year. When I think of Easter, I imagine shoeless kids running through sun-drenched yards getting grass stains on the knees of their Sunday best; the glow of new life springing up all around us. This, however, is not what I see when I look out the window today. It is grey. Grey sky. Grey snow. Everything is frozen, grey and dead. Or so it would seem. Lurking just beneath the surface, there is life, waiting, holding its breath, waiting.

It amazes me how finely tuned a world our Creator has made. I could watch nature shows for days on end, marveling at the complex web of interdependence which has been spun all around us. And in the season of Lent, this physical world mirrors the invisible yet tangible reality of our spiritual journey. These forty days of self-denying greyness are reflected in the greyness of winter’s dying breath. (Unless you live in some unnatural tropical paradise of course, which just means you aren’t as spiritual as the rest of us. We would move to Hawaii or California but then I don’t want to miss out on all those spiritual insights that snow, ice and frostbite bring.)

When I wake up to chilly floors and fingers that can never quite get warm, my heart whispers “Hold on. Spring is coming. Hold on. The sun is closer today than it was yesterday.” When I stare longingly at the empty places on my phone where for the next several weeks my Netflix and Amazon Video apps will not be, a voice says “Hold on. They will be back.” And yet all this longing and waiting points to a deeper anticipation of joy yet experienced, longing never fulfilled. For spring and summer will pass and bleed into fall and winter and once again we will miss the warmth and green the sun brings. But one day, the Son will return and bring with Him an everlasting life that will never turn cold.

So I will wait. Staring out my window at the grey, holding fast to the promise that it won’t last forever. I sit here wearing the sign of the cross on my forehead, appropriately, in ash grey. This cross is made from the ashes of last year’s palm branches, connecting Palm Sunday’s shouts of “Hosanna” to Good Friday’s cries of “Crucify him!” and looking forward to Easter’s “He is risen.” Like our Savior, today I wear a cross so that one day I can wear a crown.

Two New Publications on Sexual Ethics

Two new publications of mine deal with issues related to sexual ethics.  One of these is an article entitled “Great Cloud of Moral Witness,” just published in Touchstone magazine.  In the article I develop an historical argument for the traditional Christian view of sex and marriage, noting that for nearly 2000 years no significant Christian theologian or biblical scholar defended the permissivist view on 61t3WhQRhXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_human sexual relations.  That is, for all of Christian history until just recently, all major Christian thinkers who addressed the subject have agreed that sexual relations are only appropriate within a marriage between one man and one woman.  I argue that for Christians this uniform consensus of scholarly opinion creates a strong presumption in favor of the traditional view and that those who nonetheless reject it display arrogance or ignorance (or perhaps some combination of both).

Another essay of mine, entitled “The Sexual Pluralist Revolution: Reasons to be Skeptical,” appears in the just-released volume Venus and Virtue, edited by Jerry Walls, Jeremy Neill, and David Baggett and published by Cascade Press.  (The germ of this piece was a W&F blog post in May 2014.  My Touchstone article, however, goes into some depth in highlighting major Christian theologians and biblical scholars who defended the traditional view.)

The Venus and Virtue book consists of sixteen chapters written by men and women from a variety of disciplines (e.g., theology, philosophy, biblical studies, psychology, counseling, youth ministry, etc.), each addressing a different aspect of the sexuality issue.  Section headings include “Biblical and Theological Foundations for Human Sexuality,” “Christian Sexuality for Singles,” “Christian Sexuality for Persons with Same-Sex Attraction,” and “Pastoral Wisdom for Christian Sexuality.”  I highly recommend this resource for pastors, young adult ministers, college professors, and Sunday school teachers.


The Best and Worst of 2017

It’s been another exciting year, and we want to thank you all for reading and, if applicable, posting comments on our blog. Once again, we would like to close out the year with some summary remarks about good and bad stuff related to film, music, books, sports, food, and family.

Film Experiences:

Jim:  This year I saw a lot of intense films, including Baby Driver, Dunkirk, and It, which are intense in very different ways. I appreciated the innovation of Baby Driver—an action adventure film meticulously choreographed to an eclectic but somehow seamless musical soundtrack. The WWII film Dunkirk is powerful in its realism, but suffers for lack of character development. And despite its over-the-top frenetic scare scenes, It has a surprisingly human touch. But the film’s highlight is Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise the Clown. Split is a riveting psychological thriller with a surprise connection with director Shyamalan’s earlier film, Unbreakable. Really looking forward to the upcoming film Glass, which will be the third film of what is now being called the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. But my favorite film experience of the year was Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This installment gives us more superb acting performances (even from Mark Hamill), surprising plot twists, and—in Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren—the most complex and compelling villain in a Hollywood film since Norman Bates.

Amy:  My highlight features the small screen and is probably a bit more sentimental than entirely critical. Stranger Things Season Two is likely to be the last series I watch with all the kids and piling in front of the TV with all four of them to cheer on Mike and the gang will long be a long-cherished memory. I do consider Stranger Things a well-produced as well as well-acted show worth the trouble of coordinating everyone’s schedules and staying up past bedtime. Another favorite for sheer entertainment value was Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 which we all watched in the theater. On a more serious note, my experience of film was forever changed this year with the avalanche of sexual harassment claims coming out of Hollywood. I am both sickened and frustrated by the accusations of seemingly innumerable women, and this cements my belief that the City of Angels is the most ironically named metropolis in America.

Jim’s Best Musical Experiences of the Year:  Lots of good music from old artists and new. I’ve enjoyed U2’s Songs of Experience, which seems more like the second half of a time-released double album (along with Songs of Innocence). “Red Flag Day” is instantly one of my favorite U2 songs. I also, at last, discovered the genius of Taylor Swift, whom I now regard as one of the best songwriters of our time. (More on that later in a separate post.) My son Bailey introduced me to the gritty and soulful Robert Finley, whose Goin’ Platinum sounds like it came right out of the early 70s, thanks to the retro production of Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys). My son Sam turned me on to Foxygen, a band that can traffic in more musical genres in one song than most bands explore in an entire career. For a stimulating taste of their Rundgren-flavored R&B check this out. And then from the Next Saviors of Classic Rock category, there is Greta Van Fleet. They still are recording their first full-length album, but the early hype seems well deserved. Here’s a nice sample. (And, no, you’re not the first to note the similarity to Led Zeppelin, especially the Plant-like lead vox.) But the very best musical experience of the year was seeing Manchester Orchestra in concert at the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, Ohio with my son Sam who is as big a fan of the band as I am. Finally, I’ve enjoyed seeing our boys improve on their instruments—Bailey on guitar, Sam on drums, and Andrew on piano—even teaching himself some challenging sections of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Good stuff.

Amy’s Best Food Experiences of the Year: Will you think me completely full of myself if I confess that my favorite meals this year were prepared by yours truly? I tackled Indian samosas this year and have made myself sick on their deliciousness on more than one occasion. Getting a stamp of approval for my homemade tortillas from a native Mexican had me on cloud nine for days. The highlight for eating out this year was my birthday meal which had less to do with the food and more to do with the company. My sister and brother-in-law joined Jim, my folks and me for the holidays for the first time in more than a decade which was food for the soul well worth the wait.

Jim’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year:  Not many major sports highlights for me this year, unfortunately. But seeing the New Orleans Saints’ resurgence has been fun. I believe they have a decent shot to go on a playoff run and make it to the Super Bowl this year. Seeing Bailey and Sam play soccer together on the Eastbrook high school team, which advanced all the way to the state regional finals. Also, seeing my friend Chris Holtmann hired as the Ohio State head basketball coach was exciting. He’s probably going to take them to the top eventually, as hard as that is for me to say as a U-M fan! Chris is a man of moral integrity, and I love seeing that rewarded.

Amy’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year:  Okay, I am clearly getting soft in my old age because my favorite sports memories all involve my kids. Andrew pitched crucial closing innings in his team’s championship game which they won. Bailey’s and Sam’s soccer team won their sectionals tournament for the first time in school history and lost the regionals final in a nail-biting shootout. Maggie’s and Andrew’s team made it to the semi-finals and watching them play together was pure joy.

Jim’s Most Disappointing Sports Moments of the Year:  It was fun to be able to celebrate the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship for an entire year, but alas, all good things in sports must come to an end. But they’ll be back! Lots of other disappointments: It was tough to see the Colts tank this season with the absence of the slowly convalescing Andrew Luck. Same with the Detroit Tigers, who are now rebuilding. My Red Wings are also struggling as well. But the most disappointing single moment this year was watching victory stolen from the Detroit Lions in their game against the Atlanta Falcons because of a ridiculous 10-second “run-off” rule that I expect will be changed or qualified after this season.

Amy’s Most Painful Sports Moment of the Year:  Watching Tom Brady and the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl…again. Seriously think the NFL should consider term limits, unless your last name is Manning.

Good and Bad Reads of the Year:

Jim:  In addition to the usual countless scholarly articles I read his year, I found time to read more classics and a few contemporary works. I did a lot of reading of major works by the ancient Roman thinkers Cicero and Seneca, the latter of whom is my favorite Stoic author. Seneca’s essay “On Providence” is one of my very favorite works of philosophy. Both insightful and therapeutic, I recommend it to anyone who struggles in this world—that is, of course, everyone.  I enjoyed reading two classic works from the early 20th century—Erich Maria Remarque’s classic All Quiet on the Western Front and Booker T. Washington’s inspiring Up From Slavery. I also really enjoyed What is Marriage? by Girgis, Anderson and George, a powerful defense of traditional marriage. Currently, I’m reading Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve, which is profound and insightful regarding so many aspects of contemporary American culture.

Amy: This year I fell seriously short of my usual reading habits but did enjoy several of those I did manage to finish. I read several of the Anne of Green Gables books. Delightful. I read The Case for Christ aloud to Andrew and while it was a discipline at times, seeing him make connections in sermons and other contexts was priceless. I find most contemporary fiction deeply disappointing and was pleasantly surprised by a friend-recommended read, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Just in time for January book club meeting, I finished The Path Between the Seas, David McCullough’s tome on the building of the Panama Canal which was fascinating, inspiring and tragic all rolled into one hefty work.

Best 2017 Family Memories:

Amy: Once again, we welcomed family and friends as my niece lived with us for J-Term this year and a friend of Bailey’s from Bolivia joined us for the semester. They weren’t the only “guests” we welcomed this year. In May, Penelope, our beloved standard poodle, gave birth to nine, yes nine, puppies. Watching them come into the world, grow and find new homes was a source of seemingly ceaseless wonder and joy, especially the new homes part. But, without a doubt the most profound family memory I experienced this year was the passing of Jim’s mom. I arrived just in time to hold her hand and read the psalms to her before being the sole witness of her passing into eternity. She was one of my favorite people and I felt humbled and honored to be present at her death.

Jim:  A major highlight of the year for me was learning to ride a unicycle. I’ve always wanted to do it and decided this was the year. While this wasn’t really a “family” thing, the learning process did involve Amy and the kids in various ways. Watching their reactions—from concern about my safety to cautious encouragement to awe at my mastery of the danged thing was amusing. Other highlights: our family trips to Tennessee, watching Bailey and Sam play together on the Eastbrook soccer team, watching Andrew win a 3rd consecutive baseball championship (this time on his 12U team), and seeing Bailey crowned as Eastbrook homecoming king, which was more humorous than anything else.

Best Kids’ Quotes of the Year

As usual, the best quotes from our kids this year come mainly from our poet-comedian-dreamer daughter, Maggie (13).

  • Maggie: “I think most people spend most of their time figuring out ways to save time.”
  • Andrew: (After listening to the Lil Yachty song “I spy”): “If that is what music is coming to, kill me.”
  • Maggie: (After I told her repeatedly to clean her room): “It’s not messy; it’s just organized in a way that you can’t comprehend.”
  • Maggie: “I hate being so funny.”

New Year’s Resolutions:

Amy: I am resolved to cherish this last year of having Bailey home full time and celebrate this new stage of life for him without getting too sappy or embarrassingly sentimental. Good luck with that, Amy. I also am looking toward the end of our years of homeschooling in a year and half and starting to consider what I want to be when I grow up.

Jim:  My resolutions this year are to be more regular with posts on Wisdom and Folly and to purge some of our possessions, especially by trimming our book collection. We’re not pack-rats, but simplicity is a virtue.

Happy 2018 everyone!

The Ten Cultural Commandments of 21st Century America

American Citizens,

A little more than 130 years ago, through my pugnacious oracle, Friedrich Nietzsche, I announced the death of God in the West. In recent times, this prophecy has finally been realized in America, though, of course, not in the form of widespread disbelief in the Judeo-Christian deity. Alas, verbal affirmations of the deity’s existence abound as always. Rather, the death of God has occurred in the form of practical rejection of the moral standards of this being. For years, many have labored to serve this culture’s new lord—the self—though without the benefit of official guidelines for conduct. Therefore, at last, I now proclaim to you a new and definitive set of standards—a “transvaluation of all values,” one might say—which, through the faithful assistance of Hollywood, major news networks, and, especially, American institutions of higher learning, has now fully triumphed. Here, then, for your thoughtful consideration and lifelong devotion, are the Ten Cultural Commandments of 21st Century America:

  1. Thou shalt love thy own moral autonomy with all thy heart and reject all notions of external or absolute moral authority, for thou art entitled to all things of thy own choosing.
  2. Thou shalt remember that humans are merely highly evolved animals and thus have no fixed essence or nature.
  3. Thou shalt honor empirical science above all other means of knowledge acquisition and therefore render due suspicion on all truth claims related to value, design, or purpose in nature.
  4. Thou shalt not regard any metanarrative as exclusively true or even as more true than its alternatives, except to the extent that such may reinforce belief in the relativity of all values.
  5. Thou shalt respect every truth claim as valid if it is supported by appeal to one’s identity as part of any classifiable group, except, of course, that of white, heterosexual, Anglo-Saxon males.
  6. Thou shalt accept all sexual choices and family arrangements as morally legitimate so long as they are freely and voluntarily made.
  7. Thou shalt declare any expression (spoken or written) to be offensive if it makes you or anyone anywhere at any time the least bit uncomfortable, regardless of any consideration of context, nuance, or factual content.
  8. Thou shalt regard all human problems and failures as arising from flawed social arrangements rather than as resulting from an innate moral defect in the human species.
  9. Thou shalt prioritize personal feelings and experiences over logic and reason in all public discussions regardless of the subject matter.
  10. Thou shalt determine thy own identity and meaning in life, so long as when this is worked out in practice thou dost not transgress any of the above commandments.

Americans, this is the way to self-fulfillment. Fix these words in your hearts and minds, tattoo them on your upper arms, and create abbreviations of them for your vanity license plates.

Now go thou into the world, teaching others to follow these commandments, while ridiculing and destroying the careers of those who fail to respect them.

Triumphally yours,


The Old Grey Mare

Recently, our church held their annual Thanksgiving service and Jim and others in our congregation took a few minutes to share something for which they were thankful. They each did a great job, and as I listened to them I pondered the previous year and thought about gratitude-inspiring experiences, people, and situations I have encountered this year. Of course, there are the usual suspects: health, friends and family. While I certainly don’t mean to discount these blessings, I wanted to find something more specific to this season of life. What I settled on might surprise you.

I discovered that I am truly grateful for getting older. Now, a few decades ago, when birthdays brought new privileges, the ability to drive, to vote, to enjoy adult beverages, advancing in years was much easier to give thanks for. I suppose I still have senior citizens discounts and social security to look forward to, but, in the world’s eyes, there aren’t too many largely recognized perks to being on this side of the hill. And that is why I am so thankful for having been given a different vision through which to see my accumulating grey hairs and wrinkles. While those without hope look at the signs of aging as something to be denied and conquered, I am learning to see them as the scars of battles waged and won, of medals awarded for bravery in the face of the enemy. For those who call this life home, growing older is one step further in a finite journey, while for me and my brothers and sisters in Christ, this life is merely the womb in which we are being shaped and developed, and we are on a journey homeward bound.

This perspective is one I am working to cultivate and grow within myself as I face the indignities of middle age, especially in a culture which worships at the altar of youth. I don’t want to see myself as a clock which is slowly winding down and wearing out. Rather, I want to be a tree that is sending down deep roots, providing shade and shelter for those around her. There is an eternal aspect to trees which grow and produce seeds and eventually die and provide nourishment to the next generation of trees growing around them. They don’t cease to exist but rather take on a new form. The same is true in the life of a believer. My body might be a little slower, my mind not as quick or sharp as it once was, but each day I leave behind a little more of this world and the true me within grows a little bigger, growing to better reflect my true self. “The old grey mare she ain’t what she used to be,” and I say, thank heavens!

This fall, I had the immense honor of sitting with my mother-in-law, holding her hand and reading her the Psalms as she passed from this life to the next. I am infinitely thankful that God arranged circumstances such that I was able to witness this lovely lady going home. As she took her final breath, I felt sorrow at being left behind, but great joy in imagining her arrival in Heaven. She wasn’t leaving but arriving, and one day I will join her. One day, I will die, or in truth one day I will truly be born. And rather than filling me with a sense of dread or fear, this idea is a thrilling one.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not making plans to go skydiving without a parachute any time soon. Just like a baby in utero, I have some maturing to do before I go head first into the cosmic birth canal. I hope to live to pluck many a chin hair and continue for years doing my best to do my best. But one day this heart will stop beating, these lungs will stop breathing, this brain will stop functioning. And then I will know what it is to truly live. And for this hope and knowledge, I am and will be eternally grateful.

NPR Interview on the Ethics of Virtual Reality Technology

Recently I was interviewed by NPR in Arizona regarding my work on the ethics of virtual reality technology.  Shayna Skolnik, co-founder and CEO of Navteca, was also featured in the piece.  Here is the full interview, which aired earlier this week.

Review of McLeod-Harrison’s The Resurrection of Immortality

Mark McLeod-Harrison’s new book, The Resurrection of Immortality (Cascade, 2017) is a welcome contribution to the growing literature related to personal eschatology. His concern in the book is to explore the question of human immortality. Historically, parties to the debate have generally affirmed either that human beings are essentially immortal or conditionally immortal. Those taking the first view maintain that by nature human beings will live forever. As human beings we naturally possess the property of immortality. Conditionalists deny this, maintaining that humans may or may not live forever. God grants immortality to some, depending on certain conditions (e.g., redemption in Christ).

McLeod-Harrison defends a third alternative, which denies that immortality is intrinsic to human nature but says immortality is an enduring property possessed by human beings. On this view, immortality is an extrinsic property, one which God confers on human beings based on other properties that God gives us. And much of the book is devoted to constructing an argument for this claim—an argument that is philosophical, rather than theological, in nature. Though purely philosophical in methodology, McLeod-Harrison’s argument is nevertheless “in-house,” aimed specifically at Christian scholars in that it assumes certain basic claims of Christian theology—the existence of God, the reality of an afterlife, and the biblical doctrine of salvation.

The author admirably devotes the first couple of chapters to laying conceptual groundwork for his argument, especially defining key terms. Since “immortality” is a privative concept (like “infinite” or “unbiased”), he begins with a careful review of the concept of “mortality” and the modal varieties of meanings potentially associated with the term. Thus, he notes, we may understand mortality as referring to the possibility, actuality, or necessity of the death of the body. Alternatively, we may understand mortality vis-à-vis the soul and its possible, actual, or necessary destruction. In the second chapter, McLeod-Harrison lays out, in somewhat parallel fashion, the varieties of immortality. This conceptual backdrop is very helpful preparation for the ensuing discussion and is one of the strengths of the book.

The author’s main target of refutation is conditional immortality, which he defines as the view that humans may possibly suffer soul-death. In chapter three he addresses this claim head-on, considering whether God can cause humans to cease to exist. He addresses the question primarily in terms of God’s “moral purview to cause humans to cease to exist” (29). Though understanding that the moral and metaphysical conditions for God’s destruction of human persons are distinct, he rightly notes that “if it is morally permissible for God to bring about soul-death for humans, then it seems that it also is metaphysically possible for God to bring about soul-death” (29). Here the author appeals to Kantian notions regarding the relationship between “ought” and “can.” So although his argument in this chapter appeals primarily to what is in God’s moral power, the author regards his findings as having significant implications regarding what is metaphysically possible for God.

For the rest of my review, including my criticisms of McLeod-Harrison’s arguments, go here.

New Publication on the Ethics of Virtual Reality Technology

Last week an article of mine, entitled “The Ethics of Virtual Reality Technology: Social Hazards and Public Policy Recommendations,” was published in the journal Science and Engineering Ethics. In the article I discuss a number of issues related to virtual reality technology that are of serious moral concern and which, I argue, warrant the implementation of industry regulations. Here is the article abstract:

This article explores four major areas of moral concern regarding virtual reality (VR) technologies. First, VR poses potential mental health risks, including Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder. Second, VR technology raises serious concerns related to personal neglect of users’ own actual bodies and real physical environments. Third, VR technologies may be used to record personal data which could be deployed in ways that threaten personal privacy and present a danger related to manipulation of users’ beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. Finally, there are other moral and social risks associated with the way VR blurs the distinction between the real and illusory. These concerns regarding VR naturally raise questions about public policy. The article makes several recommendations for legal regulations of VR that together address each of the above concerns. It is argued that these regulations would not seriously threaten personal liberty but rather would protect and enhance the autonomy of VR consumers.

As for the regulations I recommend in the article, they include (1) a standardized rating system for VR technologies, (2) minimum age requirements for some VR products, (3) informational and warning labels, (4) public disclosure mandates, and, depending upon the degree to which VR technology merges with social networks, (5) “no share” laws regarding user data gleaned by VR companies.

To this day I have yet to experience VR technology first hand. This avoidance was not entirely intentional, but now I am pleased that I finished this research project before doing so, as I was somewhat wary of how the experience might bias my thinking about the subject. I am happy to say that all of the arguments and recommendations I make in the piece are based entirely on the research data I explored. But now that the article is published, I’m eager to do give VR a try. Anyone out there want to invite me to join them for a trip to a virtual world? I’m ready to don a headset and make the plunge!