Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

In the News, Part II.

The Los Angeles Times also got into the act with a quote from yours truly. Landing in an O.C. Court, This IOU Was Red All Over - Los Angeles Times.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

In the News.

I'm in the news, again. The Los Angeles Daily Journal, the legal newspaper of record, ran a front-page article on one of my cases with a picture of yours truly on May 26, 2006. Because one of the documents in the case was written in blood, it garnered media attention. KFWB radio broadcast a story on it today. This morning, I received a call from the Korean Times (as the documents are written in Korean), which indicated a story is forthcoming.

Here are excerpts from the Daily Journal article, entitled "CONTRACT WRITTEN IN COLD BLOOD MOVES THROUGH COURTS", written by Don J. DeBenedictis:

"According to a lawsuit working its way through the Orange County Superior Court, Stephen Son used his own blood to write out a promise to repay money lent him by Jinsoo Kim. Kim sued to enforce the promise. Kim v. Son, 06CC02419 (Orange Super. Ct., filed Jan. 23, 2006).

"Literature and legend say Faust signed his deal with the devil in blood. But no one has come across a contract actually written in blood before. 'I've been reading contract cases for about 40 years, and I've never seen one,' said Joseph M. Perillo, a professor at Fordham University School of Law and the co-author and editor of leading contracts textbooks.

"'I've never heard of it in my life,' said professor Vernon V. Palmer of Tulane University School of Law, who has written on the history of contracts.

"The attorneys disagree about how and why this particular sanguinolent compact came into existence. Son, they agree, asked Kim to put money into Son's corporation in Korea, which Kim did, making at least one payment while the two were in Korea and apparently another when they were in the United States. Over the first half of 2003, Kim gave Son a total of 170 million Korean won, equivalent to $170,000.

"According to the lawsuit, Son promised that Kim would receive a 40 percent stake in Son's business plus a 10 percent ownership stake in a separate, well-capitalized company, which would provide him about $5,000 a month return on the investment.

"In fact, Kim never got any money.

"Then, in October 2004, the two Korean nationals got together in a bar somewhere, according to Son's attorney, Vladimir Khiterer of Newport Beach. There was drinking and arguing and crying about the debt and the promises, Khiterer said.

"'Write it down,' Kim told Son, according to Khiterer. So Son wrote, in pen and in Korean, 'I hereby swear that I will pay back, to the best of my ability, the estimated amount of 170,000,000 won to In Soo Kim," according to a translation obtained by Khiterer's office.


"Then, Son used his own blood to write 'Sir, forgive me. Because of my deeds, you have suffered financially. I will repay you to the best of my ability.'

"Kim's lawyer [me] accepts the translations, but he and his client disagree with Son and Khiterer about the course of events. "Mr. Son did this on his own," Richard J. Radcliffe of Reich Radcliffe [LLP] in Newport Beach said about the two short documents.

"He [Son] was not in my client's presence when he decided to solemnify [the deal] in blood," Radcliffe said.


"Radcliffe said the blood might have power with a jury, especially given that the defense has suggested in pleadings that the documents do not amount to a contract at all. Blood gives the contract greater solemnity, he said.

"It just seems ironic that when they go beyond the usual ink and laser printer" the defense would then "turn around and say, 'I didn't really mean it.'"


"In a hearing May 5, Orange County Superior Court Judge Corey S. Cramin refused to throw out the lawsuit on a demurrer, except for a cause of action for fraud [for which the court gave Kim leave to amend to add details].

"Michael R. Asimow, a contracts professor at UCLA School of Law, compared writing the contract in blood to the ancient practice of solemnifying a contract with a seal stamped in wax.


"'The debt is binding but not the new promise,' Asimow said, because there is no new consideration to support the new promise.

"Radcliffe responded that the promise in Son's handwritten documents is enforceable because Kim put off suing Son over the old debt.

"'The consideration is the forbearance,' he said. In any event, Asimow noted, 'there are a lot of funny little contract doctrines crawling around here.'"

(D. DeBenedictis, Los Angeles Daily Journal, "Contract Written in Cold Blood Moves Through Courts," May 26, 2006, p. A1.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rock and Religion. has created a list of the top 100 rock acts. While the list is arguable, I am more intrigued by their characterization of many groups' religious affiliations. Here is their list, and my commentary is at the end.

"1 Beatles: Anglican/Catholic (John Lennon); Catholic (Paul McCartney); Catholic/Hindu (George Harrison); Transcendental Meditation, etc.
2 Elvis Presley: Assemblies of God
3 James Brown: Protestant
4 Rolling Stones: Catholic (Mick Jagger); Charlie Watts (Jewish)
5 Bob Dylan: Jewish; temporarily "born-agan Christian"
6 Chuck Berry: Baptist (lapsed)
7 The Who
8 Led Zeppelin
9 Stevie Wonder
10 Jimi Hendrix
11 Ray Charles
12 The Beach Boys
13 Pink Floyd: atheist (Nick Mason)
14 Aretha Franklin: Baptist
15 Little Richard: Seventh-day Adventist
16 Marvin Gaye
17 Bruce Springsteen: Catholic
18 David Bowie: Buddhist
19 Fats Domino
20 Black Sabbath: Seventh-day Adventists
21 Queen: mostly non-religious (Brian May); Zoroastrian (Freddie Mercury)
22 Buddy Holly: Baptist (lapsed)
23 Bob Marley: Rastafarian
24 Sam Cooke: Baptist (lapsed)
25 Elton John
26 Neil Young
27 U2: Anglican and reportedly "born-again Christian" (Bono); "born-again Christian" (Adam Clayton); Catholic/"born-again Christian" (Larry Mullen Jr.)
28 The Doors: Jewish (Robby Krieger); spiritual (Jim Morrison); spiritual (Ray Manzarek)
29 Run-DMC: Christianity
30 Bo Diddley
31 Jerry Lee Lewis: Assemblies of God (lapsed)
32 BB King
33 Sly & The Family Stone: Jehovah's Witness (Larry Graham)
34 The Clash: Jewish (Mick Jones)
35 Prince: Seventh-day Adventist; Jehovah's Witness
36 The Grateful Dead: Episcopalian/Catholic/Urantian (Jerry Garcia); Jewish (Mickey Hart)
37 The Velvet Underground: Jewish (Lou Read)
38 Nirvana: Catholic (Dave Grohl); Jewish (Pat Smear)
39 Michael Jackson: Jehovah's Witness; Nation of Islam
40 The Supremes: Baptist (Diana Ross)
41 The Temptations: Baptist (David Ruffin)
42 Madonna: Catholic; Kabbalah
43 Public Enemy
44 The Kinks: Catholic (Ray and Dave Davies)
45 Otis Redding: Baptist
46 The Everly Brothers
47 Van Halen: Catholic (Alex and Eddie Van Halen); Jewish (David Lee Roth)
48 Elvis Costello: Catholic
49 Simon & Garfunkel: Jewish (Paul Simon); Jewish (Art Garfunkel)
50 Cream
51 Frank Zappa: Catholic; Reichian
52 Roy Orbison: Church of Christ (Stone-Campbell); Baptist
53 Eric Clapton
54 George Clinton & Parliament/Funkadelic
55 The Allman Brothers Band
56 Janis Joplin: Church of Christ (Stone-Campbell)
57 The Ramones: Jewish (Joey Ramone, Tommy Ramone)
58 Crosby, Stills, & Nash (& Young)
59 Fleetwood Mac: Jewish (Peter Green)
60 AC/DC
61 The Byrds: "born-again Christian" (Roger McGuinn)
62 Joni Mitchell
63 The Eagles
64 Smokey Robinson & The Miracles: Christianity
65 R.E.M.: Buddhist (Michael Stipe); atheist (Mike Mills, Peter Buck)
66 Creedence Clearwater Revival
67 Johnny Cash: Baptist
68 Van Morrison: atheist father; eclectic mother; nominal Anglican; Scientologist (lapsed)
69 Aerosmith: Jewish (Joey Kramer); Steven Tyler (Catholic)
70 Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions
71 The Drifters
72 The Police
73 Metallica: Buddhist (Kirk Hammett); "born-again Christian" (Dave Mustaine)
74 Pearl Jam: atheist (Eddie Vedder)
75 Deep Purple
76 Bill Haley & His Comets: lapsed Baptist (Bill Haley)
77 The Band: Jewish (Robbie Robertson)
78 Santana: Hinduism/Sri Chinmoy Fellowship (Carlos Santana)
79 Yes: Jewish (Trevor Rabin and manager Brian Lane); Baptist (Rick Wakeman)
80 Jefferson Airplane: Jewish (Spencer Dryden, Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen)
81 King Crimson
82 Al Green: Baptist
83 The Isley Brothers: Seventh-day Adventists
84 The Moody Blues: Urantian
85 The Sex Pistols: Catholic (Johnny Rotten)
86 N.W.A.: Islam (MC Ren)
87 Talking Heads: Quaker (David Byrne)
88 Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Jewish (Stan Lynch, Howie Epstein)
89 Billy Joel: Jewish Catholic atheist
90 The Bee Gees: Vegan (Robin Gibb)
91 The Yardbirds
92 The Four Tops
93 Radiohead: Vegan (Thom Yorke)
94 Patti Smith: Buddhist
95 Guns 'N' Roses
96 Chicago
97 Rush: Jewish (Geddy Lee); Objectivist (Neil Peart)
98 Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
99 Rick Nelson
100 Earth, Wind, & Fire: Christianity (Philip Bailey)."

Some reflections (feel free to add yours in the comments):

1. Why are some called "lapsed" and others are not? (so, Johnny Rotten formerly of the Sex Pistols is a practicing Catholic? [no. 85]);
2. Black Sabbath are "Seventh Day Adventists" (nonlapsed, even)--not like any I know--is this a new offshoot?;
3. David Byrne is a Quaker--after seeing that video from a few years back with him in the oversized suit, I have no trouble believing he can quake with the best of them;
4. "Vegan" is a religion (nos. 90 and 93)?; and
5. What pray-tell is a Reichian? (no. 51).

(via:; link:

Monday, May 22, 2006

Book Review: Engaging with God.

This piece responds to David Peterson’s Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship. I will begin with a brief summary of the material and conclude with personal responses to the material.

1. Summary of Material

The book sets the stage with a provocative quote (from W. Nicholls), reading in part: “Worship is the supreme and only indispensable activity of the Christian Church.” (p. 15.) At first blush, this assertion seems an overstatement. However, as the following pages make clear, the book defines worship very broadly so that it cannot be seen as subordinate or dispensable. For example, the author writes: “Worship is a subject that should dominate our lives seven days a week.” (p. 21.) And, “Worship in the New Testament is a comprehensive category describing the Christian’s total existence.” (p. 18.) Peterson then posits his overarching thesis or hypothesis as follows: “[W]orship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he also makes possible.” (p. 20.)

In turn, the book explores his concepts of “engagement” with God and the terms and ways God makes it possible. In Chapter One, Peterson looks at how engagement with God was explicated and conducted in the Old Testament. However, he does not posit that the Old Testament is a prescription for Christian worship. He contends: “What the New Testament says about worship, however, also sometimes stands in stark contrast to the perspectives of the Old Testament. Despite the continuity between the Testaments, the gospel demands a transformation of many of the traditional categories and patterns of worship. History shows that Christians have sometimes wrongly applied Old Testament terms and concepts to the church and different aspects of Christian worship. One of the aims of this book is, therefore, to expose the discontinuity between the Testaments on this subject.” (p. 24.)

In Chapter Two, Peterson revisits his thesis that worship is an engagement with God on the terms he proposes and in the way he makes possible. (p. 55.) Here, he discusses worship in the context of honoring, serving and respecting God. However, he does not stop there. In Chapter Three, entitled, “Jesus and the New Temple”, Peterson extends his analysis by analyzing Jesus’ transformative role in worship. He writes: “Jesus is the truth [ ], who uniquely reveals the character of God and his purposes [ ]. So the true worshippers will be those who relate to God through Jesus Christ.” (p. 99.) This begins to explain Peterson’s subthesis that there is a “discontinuity between the Testaments.” (p. 24.) Chapter Four similarly explores Jesus’ role in the new covenant; which in turn requires worship of Jesus and a study of his sacrificial service as an example for Christian worship. (p. 129.)

In Chapter Five, Peterson looks at worship through the Acts of the Apostles (and the example of the early church). In this chapter, he focuses on the central role of Jesus (p. 136-37) and an engagement with the word of the Lord. (p. 137.) Peterson looks at the four (4) activities of the early church: teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and to prayer. (p. 152; cf. Acts 2:42.)

Chapter Six explores Pauline theology with respect to worship, which is broadly defined to include a “consecrated lifestyle of the converted” (p. 167) and expressions of faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ and the ministries that encourage such faith (p. 187). Chapter Seven discusses serving God in the assembly of his people. Interestingly, here Peterson writes: “evangelism is not the primary purpose of the gathering.” (p. 195.) Rather, he posits that “edification for the meeting of God’s people” is of central importance in Paul’s teaching. (p. 196.)

Chapter Eight analyzes the worship of Jesus through the lens of Hebrews. The following quote is a poignant summary: “The Christian gathering ought to focus on the finished work of Christ, the needs of his people as they seek to serve him in the present, the resources tat are available from our heavenly high priest for running the Christian race…” (p. 254; emphasis supplied.) Likewise, Chapter Nine discusses worship in light of Revelation. “Revelation to John stresses the importance of praise and acclamation as a means of honouring God and encouraging his people to trust him and obey him.” (p. 279.) The book concludes with a summary and an epilogue that provides an example of what a church might look like putting into practice the principles of the text. (p. 292.)

2. Critical Interaction with Material

I appreciated this text for its scholarly and biblical approach to the study of worship. In this regard, the book was appropriately named a “biblical theology of worship”. Peterson correctly argued that true worship requires a deep knowledge of the Word, and Peterson’s book serves that contention, as it is steeped in the Bible.

However, I have two (2) somewhat mild critiques. First, while Peterson observes that those unfamiliar with Hebrew or Greek would “be pleased to discover that technicalities are confined to the endnotes as much as possible.” (p. 56), the reality is that the book wrestled with numerous technicalities and arcane explications of Greek and Hebrew words that I though were beyond the intended audience of the text. The preface contrarily suggested that the book was “readily available to a wide circle of readers” (p. 10). I didn’t think that was quite the case. Although the book was accessible, its heavy dependence on the original languages I think somewhat defeated this stated purpose.

Second, I found that Peterson’s thesis was riddled with abstractions, and his failure to ultimately flesh them out with practical examples prevented the book from reaching its full potential. Peterson’s thesis is as follows: “[W]orship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he also makes possible.” (p. 20; emphasis added.) This thesis is repeated at least two times later in the book. Peterson, however, fails to explain in concrete and practical fashion precisely what he means by “terms” and “way”. While he belatedly offers an “epilogue” of what a worshipping church might look liked under these principles there are effete and unexplained. For example, he simply speaks about scripture readings, prayer and hymns. (pp. 289-92.) I was hoping for a more insightful and perhaps revolutionary (or revelatory) approach.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


This week, my client had an evidentiary hearing in federal court. We cross-examined an opposing expert witness—an appraiser. The basic issue for this proceeding was the value of a prime view property in the Hollywood Hills. The appraiser’s objective was to minimize the value. In so doing, he disclaimed any relevance to listings. He testified they simply represented a seller’s exposure of the property to market, and not any salient market reality.

So, we asked the expert if he agreed with a certain statement that incorporated list prices into the mix for an “upper limit” of market valuation. Consistent with his earlier testimony, he fervently disclaimed the truth of that statement. However, he inquired as to its source.

After he went on record disagreeing with it, we happily noted the source: his own words. They were contained on page 2 of his appraisal report.

Lesson: read your own report before testifying about it.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Yesterday, I appeared in Court in support of my client's motion to quash a summons. Essentially, this motion challenges the Court's jurisdiction over the defendant due to a lack of service or lack of sufficient "contacts" with the forum.

I'm pleased to report that the Court agreed with my position and granted the motion.

I'm mystified to report what happened next.

After hearing the ruling on the motion, opposing counsel (in her early to mid-50s) asked the Court if it would set the matter for trial.

Apparently, opposing counsel did not understand that there can be no trial where there is no jurisdiction over the defendant (a lesson the Court delivered with some scorn). Guess she missed that day in law school. Weird.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fringe benefits.

Yesterday, I saw a handbill posted near one of our local beaches. It read:


Regarding fringe benefits, it doesn’t have much in the way of a “retirement plan” or “life/fire insurance.”

I guess they will need to market it unconventionally.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Book Review: Diverse Worship.

This piece responds to Dr. Pedrito U. Maynard-Reid’s Diverse Worship. As is the usual pattern on this blog, I will begin with a brief summary of the material and conclude with a critique.

1. Summary of Material.

Dr. Maynard-Reid’s book posits that worship should be “wholistic”. (p. 16.) While at least indirectly critiquing “the dominant Caucasian culture” (whatever that is) as presenting less than a “wholistic” worship experience (p. 14), he offers three (3) “paradigms of what holistic worship should be.” (p. 16.) These paradigms include: African-American, Caribbean and Hispanic. (Chapters 4-13.) After setting the stage with an introduction about culture, the biblical setting or context, and a broader historical perspective (Chapters 1-3), Dr. Maynard-Reid dedicates one part or section to each of the three (3) paradigms. Within each part, the author discusses general characteristics, music and concludes with the “spoken word” or preaching aspect of a worship service.

Finally, Dr. Maynard-Reid concludes with a chapter on the “Rational & Physical”. In this chapter, the author argues for a more complete worship experience “encompass[ing] the rational and nonrational; the verbal and nonverbal.” (p. 203.)

2. Critique of Material.

Dr. Maynard-Reid’s book, while an earnest effort to broaden the types of worship experiences that are employed, and to engender understanding of other cultures, is beset by numerous maladies that ultimately doom its analysis and prescriptions.

First, Dr. Maynard-Reid disclaims that any culture or “worship pattern”, especially “African-American, Caribbean and Hispanic” are “monolithic”. (p. 24.) Yet, the analysis that follows belies or undermines his own contention. The author in fact shows himself to hold precisely the opposite view, namely, that there is a single African-American culture that can be categorized. Worse still, Dr. Maynard-Reid often traffics in stereotypes and cookie-cutter characterizations. For example, he writes that “black worship does not emphasize only the objective but highly encourages the subjective”. (p. 88.) What is “black worship”? Is it a singular concept? Are there different manifestations and varieties? Of course there are.

Similarly, Dr. Maynard-Reid remarkably states: “The roots of the African-American preacher go back to the motherland. The parallels between the African-American preacher and the African priest/medicine man are striking.” (p. 87.) Again, he writes so easily about a single archetype as if there is only one kind of African-American preacher. In my experience, this is simply untrue—African-American preachers are not all alike, and are as varied as the number of people being contrasted.

This diverse reality (within the very cultures that he passes off as monolithic) is apparently lost on Dr. Maynard-Reid. Dr. Maynard-Reid does not limit his stereotyping to the three (3) paradigms he proffers. Instead, as noted above, he unnecessarily but predictably denigrates “the dominant Caucasian culture” (p. 24). In so doing, he ignores the rich diversity (and indeed fragmentation) within his broad category of “Caucasian culture”--as if it is monolithic and “dominant”. It is not. What is especially remarkable is that Dr. Maynard-Reid so quickly violates the very principle he laid out in his introduction and fails to grasp the irony.

Second, by focusing on racial and similar means of dividing people, Dr. Maynard-Reid misses the larger issues at play in the (inartfully named) “worship wars”. As the author seems obsessed with antiquated ways of dividing or categorizing people, he fails to address other and I believe more current divisions. For example, society generally and the church more specifically are fragmented in ways that cut-across racial (and national heritage) lines. Dr. Maynard-Reid ignores or gives mere lip-service to socio-economic facts that divide church cultures; he ignores or dismisses gender differences, and perhaps most egregiously he fails to grasp probably the single greatest dividing factor in worship—generational differences. As such, I think much of Dr. Maynard-Reid’s book is wrongheaded, or more pejoratively put, antiquated. What is mystifying is that Dr. Maynard-Reid knows better. His introduction showed such promise when he wrote: “The debate here is not centered on ethnic issues….The debate centers on contemporary versus traditional….” (p. 15.) And, Dr. Maynard-Reid rightly observes: “Culture is not biological or racial.” (p. 15.) He either didn’t write the introduction or forget about it has he penned the chapters that followed—that seem steeped in racial or ethnic stereotyping.

Finally, I think the book ultimately fails because Dr. Maynard-Reid’s approach is largely misdirected. Speaking in the language of racial and ethnic division, he proposes paradigms that are defined in precisely those terms—such as, “African-American, Caribbean and Hispanic.” To the contrary, the paradigm should be the biblical model—which he himself mentions in passing. “[Worship] has both vertical and horizontal dimensions: one’s relation to God and one’s relationships with fellow worshippers.” It’s hard to keep this focus of unity and unitary purpose, when we are casting aspersions about “dominant Caucasian culture” (without establishing what it purportedly is) and its alleged antidotes in African-American, Caribbean and Hispanic worship patterns.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Book Review: Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time.

This piece responds to Dr. Marva J. Dawn’s Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time. I will begin with a brief summary of the material and conclude with a critique.

1. Summary of Material

To its credit, Dr. Dawn’s book is designed to heal the church from the “’worship wars’ that rage in so many congregations” which “prevent[ ] us from truly being the Church.” (p. 3.) She looks for ways to reconcile these divisions so that “we can truly be the Church.” (p. 3.)

Delving deeper, Dr. Dawn announces four (4) other goals: “to reflect upon the culture for which we want to proclaim the gospel; to expose the subtle powers that beckon us into idolatries and that upset the necessary dialectical balances in the Church’s life and worship; to stimulate better questions about, if, why, and how we might be dumbing faith down in the ways we structure, plan, and participate in worship education and in worship itself; and to offer better means for reaching out to people outside the Church.” (p. 11.)

In the chapters that follow, Dr. Dawn explores the culture surrounding the Church’s worship. She then breaks down this part into chapters dealing with the “Technological, Boomer and Postmodern Culture’; the idolatries of contemporary culture; and worship as a subversive act.
In the next section, Dr. Dawn tackles the “Culture of Worship.” Here, she explores the three (3) main participants in worship. First, God is at the center of worship. Then, she addresses the character of the believer. Finally, she discusses the character of the church.

In part IV, which Dr. Dawn entitles “The Culture in Our Worship”, she expands out into music, the word and ritual, liturgy and art. Part V concludes with an outward focus, where worship is seen for the sake of the culture. Its mission is to reach out to others, but “without dumbing down.” Finally, she writes about the Church serving as its own “worst enemy” and catalogues numerous negative manifestations of the church evidently trying to conform to culture. (p. 303.)

2. Critique of Material

First, I thought Dr. Dawn’s book brought a lot to the table through its reliance on sociological approaches in exegeting the broader culture. Indeed, Dr. Dawn concedes that her book’s content has been gathered from “sociological data”. (p. 11.) This focus is perhaps the text’s greatest strength because those in the Church (as well as outside of it, obviously) cannot help but reflect the culture in which they reside. By the same token, those who seek to reach others efficaciously must understand this context. This culture, as she writes, is characterized by the visual—especially television, technology and postmodernism (pp. 19-40).

As a backstop, however, Dr. Dawn correct points out that the church must be mindful of the dangers of adopting the surrounding culture. She astutely uses the phrase, “dumbing down” to describe the phenomenon whereby the zeal to connect in the least challenging way has deleterious effects. I have long been concerned about this tension. As one with ample theological education (nearly 120 units between undergraduate and graduate studies) I have wondered how others are able to obtain the knowledge, background and foundation in biblical and theological education when much of this content is stripped from worship songs (pendulum may be swinging back) and the devaluation (if not elimination) of adult “Sunday School” in so-called “seeker-sensitive” environments. Dr. Dawn stands in the gap and forcefully states that the church should not and cannot be seduced into “dumbing things down” for the sake of fashion. Dawn eloquently laments: “[F]aith was lost, not because churches did not adapt themselves to changes in the culture around them, but because they sacrificed the wisdom of their traditions too eagerly and too submissively in favor of capitulating to societal idolatries and demands.” (p. 303.) Similarly, the Church can serve as an antidote to those that “dumb down” in the broader culture, she contends. (pp. 7, 303.)

Second, while I believe that Dr. Dawn has done an excellent job of diagnosing the malady (in fact, she belabors it), her explication of the prescription was inadequate. For example, after—yet again—identifying all the problems in the Church (at the very end of her book, oddly), she superficially offers: “There is an alternative. We could ask better questions. We could plan worship that keeps God as the subject, that nurtures the character of the believer, that forms the Christian community to be a people who reach out in God’s purposes to the world.” (p. 304.) These are all laudable goals. However, they approach the platitudinal, rather than the practical.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Book Review: On the Ethical Life by Peter Singer.

1. Brief Summary of Material

The main thesis or premise of Peter Singer’s On the Ethical Life is that ethics should derive not from religious or theological underpinnings (or be dictated by them), but rather from and by certain (his) guiding principles or claims. In turn, Singer distills his proffered principles or claims to four: (a) that pain is bad and should be minimized; (b) that human animals are not the only beings that experience pain; (c) that characteristics should be considered in taking lives, not the group to which they belong; and (d) responsibility extends to preventing harm not merely the nonpractice of it; what one does should be considered as well as what one does not do. (Singer, pp. xv-xvi.) The balance of Singer’s text (mostly exploring practical examples) essentially flows from these core concepts.

2. Critical Interaction with Material

While Singer’s wide-ranging and engaging work explores issues of animal rights; life and death; ethics, self-interest and politics, this response will focus on core issues presented by the text.

A. Singer’s Outcome-Determinative Methodology

It becomes readily apparent that Singer rejects any normative value to biblical or theological authority; and hence, he seeks to untether ethics from these sources. Singer poignantly writes: “Christianity has for two thousand years been a powerful influence on the moral intuitions of people in Western societies…. Yet, without the religious beliefs—for example, that God created the world, that he gave dominion over the other animals, that we alone of all of his creation have an immortal soul—the moral teachings just hang in the air, without foundations. If no better foundations can be provided for these teachings, we need to consider alternative views.” (p. xviii; emphases supplied.)

This short statement is remarkably telling and truthful--with much to unpack. First, we plainly see that Singer rejects any biblical authority for ethical practice, which he dismissively characterizes as mere “religious belief”. Singer’s rejection is also evidenced in his similar contention: “I see no evidence for belief in an immortal soul.” (p. xvii.) By devaluing biblical evidence to the contrary, he then is free to opine that there is no evidence inconsistent with his view.

Second, Singer admits, once ethics are unfastened from the foundations of God or His proscriptions (religion or theology), that they are essentially malleable propositions. To use his words “moral teachings just hang in the air.” (p. xviii.) Singer is exactly correct. With a foundationless moral framework, one can substitute ethical preferences by simply changing the language or rules of the debate. In this regard, Singer has posited four “claims” (his choices of what should control or govern), and not surprisingly, they lead to the conclusions he seeks.

Third, Singer indirectly concedes that his “alternate views” are alternative to traditional moral teaching as flowing from scriptural and religious tradition. Singer tries to diffuse the objection that “ethics according to Singer” is no more authoritative (in the vacuum-like moral economy without fixed foundation he earlier observed) than the gentleman dispensing slurpees from 7-11. He contends that he has skills as a trained philosopher to make these pronouncements or judgments. (p. 5.) But, this is a thinly-veiled tautology; Singer’s outcome-determinative “claims” or principles simply reflect his own preferences for results and the process for getting there, or similarly they, reflect like-minded philosophers with the same agenda. In the grand scheme of a foundationless rubric, they have no more authority than anyone else’s—they are just more eloquently stated.

B. Making Humans and Animals Parallel

As a prime example of this thinking, Singer sets up a system whereby animals should be treated like humans, such as in the fields of scientific testing and eating (vegetarianism), in his multi-chapter section entitled, “Across the Species Barrier.” He attempts to diffuse the differences between humans and (other) animals—again, ignoring Christ’s words about the hierarchy between them. “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matt. 6:26; NASB [emphasis supplied].) This text does not hang in isolation, as the Old Testament employs similar hierarchical language. God commanded: “[F]ill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28; NASB.) Singer does not concern himself with these texts because he gives them no authority in his world of ethics. As such, he can simply reason that humans and animals should be treated similarly because they share certain biological functions. Again, if humans are also soulless, then what is the difference between the species?

C. Saving and Taking Life According to Singer

In these chapters, Singer simply extends his views set forth in the earlier chapters; they are ineluctable variations on the same premise. In Singer’s ethical world, humans enjoy no special status over (other) animals and hence, should be viewed in the context of “characteristics” and not position or imagery of God. This certainly provides a liberating framework to make judgments about “saving and taking life.” Unconstrained about biblical mandates or deity-directed behavior, one enters an emancipating ethical system governed by Singer’s utilitarian view about increasing pleasure and eradicating pain. It is difficult to argue with Singer--if there are no fixed moral boundaries and the ethical horizon is unfettered by any such concerns. However, since the boundaries do exist, Singer’s extreme prescriptions must be rejected as untenable.

D. Singer’s Polarities of Self-Interest and Ethics

In the final section (before the autobiographical notes), Singer speaks about self-interest, ethics and politics. As there is much here, I wanted to focus on his view that self-interest and ethics are polar opposites. “[W]e are choosing between different possible ways of living: the way of living in which self-interest is paramount, or that in which ethics is paramount, or perhaps some trade-off between the two.” (p. 242.) While no adherent of Ayn Rand, sometimes ethics and self-interest coalesce, and they become co-terminus. For example, a businessperson can seek to maximize profit for the company in the context of ethical behavior, but at the same time benefit others who receive the service/good and also those employed in the enterprise. Singer does not seem to allow for that dualism—instead, he posits a zero-sum analysis or spectrum whereby the more self-interested one is the less ethical he or she will be.

In sum, this book provides a stimulating exploration of ethical practice when God, theology and scriptural constraints are removed. In this near “free-for-all”, one can see how his principles would work themselves out, and for this contribution, Singer should be commended.