“Options Not Restrictions”: Wrestling with Changing Abortion Laws

Jan 31, 2019

The recent New York abortion law known as the Reproductive Health Act, which allows for abortions as late as 24 weeks, has given new urgency to the debates surrounding the issue. The Virginia Bill aims to push the timeline even further. Given the volatile nature of the issue, how should Christians respond? In this episode, Nathan and Cameron wrestle with these developments, and aim to offer a hopeful rejoinder to our culture’s view of human freedom.

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Cameron McAllister: Hello, and welcome to Thinking Out Loud. Thinking Out Loud is a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope. I'm your co-host Cameron McAllister.

Nathan Rittenhouse: And I'm your co-host Nathan Rittenhouse.

Cameron McAllister: All right. We've got a tough subject this time, but it's a subject that is pretty unavoidable. If you're paying attention to the news, and it's really captured just public attention, but just the national conversation as well. We're talking about the new Reproductive Health Act that has gone into effect in New York. This has made headlines, obviously, because this is changing abortion laws and it's making them a lot less restrictive. Just in case you haven't been paying as much attention as some of the others, this law is bringing-

Nathan Rittenhouse: As in you haven't turned a radio or TV or a social media newsfeed in the last week.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah, yeah. Right. Clearly, the most controversial aspect of this new law is its provision allowing for abortions after 24 weeks. Again, the language is somewhat ambiguous here, and so it stipulates that an abortion will be allowed after 24 weeks in some cases where there is "absence of fetal viability or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient's life or health." Let me repeat that quote, "Absence of fetal viability or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient's life or health."

The focus of people who are in favor of this new law is really on health and the wellbeing of the mother, that's the way the issue is being framed. But to make matters more complex, there's a new bill on the table in Virginia, and by the time you hear this episode, this bill may have been ... Depending on what the developments are here, it may get shot down or it may have gone through. This one is even more extreme, and this one would allow essentially ... I'll talk about this in a second. There's an exchange you can watch that's going viral.

Essentially, this bill would allow abortion up to birth. This is in Virginia. This is the Virginia bill, and it's been introduced by the Democratic delegate Kathy Tran. It also has the backing of Virginia's Democratic Governor Ralph Northam. You'll notice I'm using a lot of political designations here. I'm actually doing that ... Really, that's almost an incidental feature here because that's not really what we want to look at in this episode, but that just happens to be ... Often, this issue, that's part of what makes it difficult, obviously. It's seen many times as a purely political issue.

Nathan and I are both going to talk a little bit more about that. We don't think that's the case. There are, of course, political aspects of it, because, again ... Let's back up. When we talk about politics, we're not just talking about specific policies and legislation and politicians. We're talking about decisions that affect the common life, the common good of all those around us, which is why politics often seems so inherently intrusive. Because after all, these days we are so focused on our own individual interests, often, and realizing our own dreams and wants and wishes, so any kind of political claims, oftentimes, we react very strongly because we think, "Hey, who are you to infringe on my rights and my self-expression?"

Yet, we all have to live together. We all have to share this planet, this space, this country, and so these policies affect everyone. Politics is kind of a rude reminder these days, even though, in the past, it's been seen as a noble calling, but these days it's kind of a rude reminder that we all have to live together. The way these kinds of laws affect us, it really brings to the surface some of these assumptions about not just human life and the value of human life, but also about our view, I think, really of freedom.

Let me go-

Nathan Rittenhouse: Can I jump in here-

Cameron McAllister: Yeah.

Nathan Rittenhouse: ... just to add a thought or two in that? One of the interesting elements that comes up ... This is not just political, but I think in our time partisan political, and part of that is just not the content of these bills, but the timing of them, also, because of an anticipation of other things that other political parties might do in the future that would restrict these types of bills. There's a little bit of political checkers going on here getting ready for the next person's move. But then also, I think, to go back to what you're saying about kind of the difficulty of living in these, in a political time in which everything influences us deeply is that, on one hand, we're trying to pass legislation to say that I have the right to myself and my own body.

On the other hand, we're using politics in order to do that, which then says that there's an authority outside of myself that gets to dictate that. We're getting these kind of circular feedback loops within ourselves of I want to have the right to me, but I need it to be backed up by all the other people who aren't me. It gets a bit circular if you don't start trending toward some sort of referent outside of that system. I think just a little heads up as where this conversation might be going that we'll probably be expanding out of the purely U.S. partisan political realm as this conversation goes forward.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah, absolutely. There's, on the one hand, my individual rights, what I want to do, but on the other hand, you need other people to help you to secure those rights, and so there is an interesting back-and-forth. Yeah, one other quick note on the sort of strategies that are involved here or the partisan political checkers. There's anxiety these days, obviously, that the election of a conservative Supreme Court justice is going to do damage to the progress, as some see it, of Roe v. Wade and particularly among certain people in the Democratic or the Progressive political party are very concerned that that's going to be reversed, and so you see these kinds of maneuvers taking place.

But there's a quote that really jumped out at me, Nathan, and I think this'll kind of take us beyond the partisan realm here. First of all, let me just say ... I'm just going to be very honest and say this stuff is incredibly saddening to me. But, as I've said on ... There's a phrase that I've used in the past. There's a phrase you use that I really like, which is, "I'm saddened, but I'm not surprised." Then there's another one that involves sad that I use, which is, "It makes a lot of sad sense." I think both of those apply here.

First of all, I think this is deeply, deeply sad and tragic, and I do think that it points to just how drastically lost we are as a nation, but not just as a nation. I think, increasingly, where you see this sort of real ... Wherever you see this trend toward radical individualism in the sense of seeing yourself as some sort of atomistic, lone unit, and with only your own concerns and wants and wishes, yes, you can reach out and have fellowship and community, but only and purely on your own terms. I do think that kind of mindset is lethal, and, literally, here, what we're talking about is lethal.

But here's one quote. I'm not going to name the person who says it, but this is a person who is a pro-choice advocate and works a lot and is very, very gladdened by these laws. What this person says, I think, is deeply revealing. Here's the quote, "The human body doesn't follow a legal timeline." This person's very concerned with women who are experiencing serious doubts or have had traumatic experiences. There are any number of complications that can be brought into the conversation here.

This is an interesting side note. Many of the complications that are brought up are often highly, highly unusual and exceptional circumstances, but we'll leave that aside. But very concerned about these women when they want to terminate the pregnancy but it's technically past the legal timeline, so this is what this person is talking about. But they say, "The human body doesn't follow a legal timeline." And here's the key, "People need options, not restrictions." People need options, not restrictions. I don't think that you could find a quote that better sums up some key aspects of the zeitgeist than the people need options, not restrictions. I think, if I don't miss my guess, this is Nathan's first time hearing that quote, so I'm curious about-

Nathan Rittenhouse: Actually, I have read it.

Cameron McAllister: Okay.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, what I found fascinating is the context in which I read it. It was when she said that saying that they're ... She often talks to women who are past 24 weeks pregnant before they know they're pregnant, which ... I only have three kids, but I think that's a little surprising sometimes, thinking you can be pregnant for almost half a year and not know it. But, that aside, that was part of the context where it wasn't abnormal, necessarily, in the health of the child but in the timing of when the person knew that they were pregnant.

Cameron McAllister: Mm. Yeah.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Anyway, that doesn't at all take away from what you're saying that it's a statement that, like you said, is sort of a poetic description of our national sentiment of what it is that we're longing for, options, no restrictions.

Cameron McAllister: And we think, mostly, in terms of options these days, even without realizing it. This is why I often think back on a sound bite from Marshall McLuhan, which most people know even if they don't know Marshall McLuhan's name, which is, "The medium is the message." And he's talking about ... There's a lot more to that quote than we often give him credit for. Marshall McLuhan had this real aptitude and proficiency with turning out these great phrases, but, this one, part of what he's getting at is the way our modern conveniences, and he has in mind technologies specifically, but how they really change the way we think. They transform our imagination and they change the way we look at the world.

In this case, even something as seemingly trivial as the options on a music streaming service or a movie streaming service, the ways in which that kind of rewires us to think that all of life should sort of function like the grocery store aisle where you have 60 different types of ketchup. We tend to think in these options, and that means that you're approaching so much of life like a consumer, and that means even some of the major life and death decisions. That's having some pretty amazing and drastic consequences. I've talked before on other podcasts about how this can sometimes paint us into very dark corners, because when we feel that our options are severely limited or that we've run out of options, we sometimes gravitate toward extreme options. I think this has a bearing on the question of suicide. It certainly has a bearing on the question of abortion, because even the way it's framed-

Nathan Rittenhouse: And end of life issues just in general.

Cameron McAllister: Absolutely. Yep, end of life issues. Well, because, again, we're thinking about so many of these ... Some of these huge life and death issues, we're thinking about them in terms of options or a choice. I think we don't realize how incredibly novel that is. If you travel back-

Nathan Rittenhouse: Oh, can I-

Cameron McAllister: Yeah.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Can I add something else in there that is a subset of what you're saying?

Cameron McAllister: Sure.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Is that also to think about the commodification of sex and that I participate sexually as a consumer and it's about me. That mindset also plays into the issues that we're talking about here, too. I just wanted to stick that in there before we move on, that that's one of the specific ways in which our, yeah, our commodity market mindset has played into personal choices, into issues that historically have been deeply communal rather than individual.

Cameron McAllister: Well, yeah. I remember back when I was in grad school doing, when we were in a discussion, and one of my professors had us talk about the 1960s, specifically the introduction of birth control, modern birth control as in the form of the pill. We talked about just what a drastic change this introduced. Now I'm aware that Nathan and I, we're walking a tightrope here, we're introducing all sorts of complex discussions, but, again, as we see-

Nathan Rittenhouse: They're connected.

Cameron McAllister: They're connected, right. None of this stuff happens in isolation, and many really astute social critics are in unison on saying that right now we are seeing the late '60s and the '70s. We're seeing the sexual revolution in full fruition. We're finally seeing all of the full, real repercussions and consequences of that, and I think in many ways, it's hard to ... When you actually press into the details of history, things become a little bit more complex and ambiguous, but you can certainly chart a very clear beginning with the introduction of modern birth control, because suddenly ...

Talk about commodification, but also, suddenly, you can, as many social critics pointed out, and there are people who fall on various sides of the dividing lines here and there are various complications that enter in here, but, as people often pointed out, now you have the ability to, in some ways, divorce an action. The act of sex, which is inherently communal, relational, has amazing consequences, but now you can divorce it from all of that and see it as something that is a source of just pure gratification, and that has had a massive impact. Again, think about the medium being the message. Think about the way that has rewired the way we look at the institution of sex.

Cameron McAllister: you had been there to chime in a little bit. I'm curious about some of your thoughts about the sexual revolution and then what's happening today.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, let me answer that from a bit of a different ... Tell a story. This is a pontification of somebody I know who is a farmer who thinks conscientiously about the way things are produced, and he talked about there being a McDonald's era in which McDonald's was growing, was really cool and awesome, and then there's this, now, this huge backlash against fast food. There's this whole slow food movement, thinking about all the communal aspect of what it means to eat well and all the consequences of what it means to eat.

He was kind of talking about that, and he said, "Do you think it's possible that we'll ever reach a point in which there will be, instead of a slow food revolution, a slow sex revolution?" In the sense of we're living in the McDonaldization, I guess, of sexual ethics, or maybe it's the Burger King version, Have It Your Way, where there are so many options how you want it, when you want it, but that we've ultimately found that, you know what, that's not good for us or maybe even the planet.

Then there are lifestyle choices that go back around the other direction. I think one of the questions is, can we actually live up to the expectations that we're trying to seek here? I had a really long conversation last week with somebody who was simultaneously adamant that sexual expression was the pinnacle of human experience and simultaneously admitting that it was not a satisfactory way to live life and she wanted something more.

I think we're living in a moment in our ... Let's say it is the fruition of the sexual revolution. The question is, is it actually satisfying or is there something more? I don't think we have to go all theological and metaphysical on it. I think we just have to look at our own lived experiences to say, "Has this delivered what it promised it would?" I think for the most part, people are starting to slow down a little bit and saying maybe not.

That's a bit of a tangential way to answer your question about the sexual revolution, but I do wonder, at what point, if we run into its logical conclusion, will it turn to dust in our mouth?

Cameron McAllister: I think it's really fair to say. Actually, I have said this in some of those similar conversations, Nathan, with people, whether it's on university campuses or in churches around the States, I have said, "Well, look at the state of our nation right now. Would you say it's working?" That's a totally fair question, and you're right. It's deeply practical, and you don't have to blow the dust off of some philosophical text. Just look at the state of the nation, and if we are so affluent, educated, and connected in an unprecedented way, we have access to so much information, then why on earth is there such a mental health crisis? Why are we so lonely? Why are we so conflicted? And what seems to be the breakdown, particularly, among young people?

On the last episode, we were talking about the plight of millennials, and we kind of had a little bit of a laugh, but in some ways, Nathan, this has a bearing too. This is connected. You see there's this incredible fear of actual consequences and responsibility and so-

Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, and a deep hope that technology will solve the consequences of our previous behavior.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah.

Nathan Rittenhouse: That's really what this is. I think it's a loss of cause and effect that often plays into some of these discussions as well.

Cameron McAllister: I think so. Well, and the thought that, okay, yeah, if we can just outsource this to a doctor, to some form of technology, to a pill.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Professional.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah, a professional, a procedure. Then it gets taken care of and we don't have to worry about it. We talk so much these days about the anxiety and dealing with anxiety. It's amazing how ... I don't know what your experience is, Nathan, but the more and more younger people I talk to, in particular, when we talk about struggles and deep questions, it always turns now on depression, anxiety, fear. I know that to some of your older farmer friends, for instance, or some of the people I've known in my life in Europe and all that who have seen a level of hardship and historical difficulty that is just mind-boggling, they would say, "Anxiety about what?" I don't think it would be a condescending kind of question. It would be more of a genuine curiosity about what's going on here. What are you afraid of? Life seems to be so easy. But I think-

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. But on the other hand, so there's a massive difference. I was listening to a really gut-wrenching radio program about songs that were produced in concentration camps and a young man who was memorizing them because they thought he would live, and so they said, "You have to remember our songs." He talks about a group of Jews being executed all singing the same song as they're on their knees being shot in the head and the choir keeps singing as they keep being shot. There's a just graphic description of that, but they're all singing the same song, and that's the difference. They had a common identity. They did not die alone in that way. Right now, none of us have the same song. If you face something that's gruesome as a community, that almost seems to be more stable than facing everyday reality as an individual.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I know that sounds, it could sound callous, but if you think about the level of despair, there have been people who have died horrifically in peace and there are people who have lived, not in wartime, and lived miserable lives as individuals. This whole thing of we need options, not restrictions-

Cameron McAllister: Restrictions.

Nathan Rittenhouse: ... is it sounds good until you start thinking about, can I live fully as a human without having boundaries placed on my life by a community because I can't be part of the community unless there are restrictions placed on me by people other than myself? That's, I think, the fundamental difference that we're looking at here, is are the other people there to support me or are the other people there to collectively establish an identity for ourselves that we participate in as community? And so the fundamental question here is, can I be a genuine independent individual and still have community? Can I have no restrictions on my life and all the options I want and still form meaningful relationships with my country and community and family and household? Those would be some of the issues that I see that kind of undergird some of the disillusionment that goes around some of these topics.

Cameron McAllister: Right. And, of course, with regard to this particular issue and these changing laws, what looks to you and I as both Christian men and also as both of us dads, what looks to us catastrophic here, catastrophically misguided, is the fact that, yeah, these options lead to very, very serious restrictions, particularly with the unborn, who, I think it's fair to say, constitute the most vulnerable members of the population, and so because of this increasing ... See, there's another aspect of the interesting tension, the need for more options, and so that is the need for a greater expression of what we could call negative freedom, freedom from restraints.

That leads to greater restrictions, in this case, for the unborn. But you see that because there's a ... But what that tension shows, though, is that people aren't the isolated little individual units we tend to ... It's not that we think in these terms. Nobody says, "Oh, I'm an isolated individual. I'm an atomistic little individual." Nobody thinks in these terms. These are more default settings, to borrow a phrase from David Foster Wallace. Now, I do have to get a little bit philosophical because I just think we need some 30,000-feet perspective here.

There is a book that came out this last year that I think is really helpful. It's called Why Liberalism Failed, and the author is Patrick J. Deneen, who's a professor at Notre Dame University. His thesis, by the way, it's not that the progressive party or the Democratic party is failing. He's talking about the liberal experiment of the United States. His thesis is ... It's a provocative one. He says that liberalism's failure is its success. His thing is that what you see right now is actually that's liberalism succeeding, and its success is its failure. Its failure is success. What he means by that is the very, the liberal assumption about human nature is fundamentally flawed, he believes, so the full expression of it is going to be fundamentally flawed.

He traces a huge part of that flaw back to Thomas Hobbes. Some of you listening may have had Thomas Hobbes inflicted on you by a professor at some point in college, but, of course, his great achievement in political philosophy was Leviathan. But in that book, basically, he argues that human beings are born in a state of radical freedom and the law exists purely to restrain us because, if we were left to our own devices, we would just all claw one another's eyes out. For Hobbes, the law is purely negative. It's just there to restrain your primal instincts and so that we can all sort of cooperate and inhabit the same space without killing each other.

Patrick Deneen just says, "That's nonsense. With all due deference to Hobbes, that's nonsense." And he's right. It is. What little squirming baby do you see as some inherently radically free, hostile creature that's ready to claw your eyes out? A little squirming infant is just as helpless and as vulnerable as can be. There's a relationship of total dependency. There are some organisms, actually, and Nathan can speak more to this probably. There are some organisms that are born remarkably strong, that are born fighting, so to speak. Human beings are not among them. We're born in a state of total dependency.

That's a picture of the deeper reality of human nature. We're absolutely relational creatures. We have everything to do with one another. Even if you look at your own life and your own string of achievements and accomplishments, you have a rich tapestry of people behind you, family, friends, teachers, mentors who have poured into you and helped you to be the person that you are. There is no person who sort of makes themselves from nothing at all. There's no self-made man. That's one of the great modern myths. There are no self-made men or women. I think because we so often don't take that into account, I really do think there have been some very catastrophic consequences for disregarding that fact about human life, that basic fact about human life, but it's so deeply ingrained. Again, most of us are not going to read the Leviathan, but many of us think in these terms without even realizing it.

Nathan Rittenhouse: That makes sense, unless I don't care about it.

Cameron McAllister: Sure.

Nathan Rittenhouse: If you look at ... Again, I think some people might have said, "Oh, I'm listening to this conversation and this isn't what I thought it was going to be about. But let me loop it back in and point out why what Cameron's saying is important here. I think most of the voices that are speaking on this issue are entirely consistent within their own way of seeing the world. I'm not accusing anybody of being inconsistent. I think that's fundamentally true.

But if you follow a conversation where one person is saying, "This is a great celebration of a woman's right to her own body," and then the next person just posts four scriptures, that's not communicating because there are these two totally different ways of viewing the world and what it means to be human that are part of that, and both of them are being consistent with their own way of being human. But the question of what it means to be human isn't really being discussed there in that exchange.

Maybe, Cameron, you could help me articulate better what I'm trying to say here.

Cameron McAllister: Well-

Nathan Rittenhouse: There is consistency between the different voices speaking into this, but they're not understanding maybe the deep roots or maybe they do. I'm not sure. What do you think?

Cameron McAllister: Well, I think ... A couple years ago, there was a really helpful article by Alan Jacobs. Boy, we like Alan Jacobs on Thinking Out Loud, don't we?

Nathan Rittenhouse: He comes back by.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah. But anyway, he wrote an article for Harper's Magazine called "The Watchmen." It was a little bit controversial, but I don't think it got the credit it deserved because ... Now he draws on a guy named Karl Mannheim in that article, and Karl Mannheim's definition of an intellectual was somebody, essentially, who could speak across conflicting communities or could speak to different communities and really seek to understand the discourse of both.

I often run the risk of not sounding very practical here, so just loop back here to what Nathan was saying. The person who's celebrating these new bills as a victory for women's rights and then the other person who is lamenting it as deeply tragic and plastering her timeline full of Bible verses, these are two distinct forms of discourse. These are two distinct communities right here, the pro-choice person and then the pro-life person over here. The Christian person over here possibly and maybe the progressive humanist or whatever the labels are, these are different ... We're naming different communities here.

Part of what has to happen here is we can acknowledge that within ... This is where, again, the phrase, it makes sad sense or I'm saddened but not surprised can come in. Nathan was talking about consistency. The person in the pro-choice community will be making statements that are usually very, very consistent within their way of looking at the world, within their social imaginary, their world view, whatever you want to call it. Then the other person in the pro-life community is making consistent statements as well.

The challenge here comes with really the question, how do we speak to those outside of our communities? And we absolutely have to. It's absolutely vital. Our lives depend on it. We've got to learn how to speak across those dividing lines. Why? Because if we don't, they won't hear us. Nobody will listen. There is no compromise. There can be no change. Just to add some helpful perspective here and I think a word of encouragement, the challenges that we face, there are always unique challenges in every era. But the church has always found itself in profound conflict with the surrounding culture. This is where it's helpful to look at Augustine's City of God versus City of Man.

In the early church, think about the Roman Empire, some of the practices that were normal, that were institutionalized, how about pederasty? Okay, this was actually a cultural institution, particularly among the wealthier classes, the aristocracy. And some historical commentators even point out that the negative connotations and the specific term pederasty is actually credited to the church's eventual stance against it. Because of their ethical stance, this began to be seen as a negative thing. The church ... Or think about all of the various sacrificial systems, the church has had to take its stand. The people of God have had to take their stand against the number of practices that are contrary to the Lord's commandments and love of neighbor ever since its inception.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Let me ... Yeah. Amen, absolutely. But it's actually been far worse at times than it is right now. If you think back to the Pharaoh's command to the Israelite midwives and just kill all the babies.

Cameron McAllister: Right. Yeah.

Nathan Rittenhouse: We're talking about a law here that says what you can do, not what you have to do.

Cameron McAllister: Yep.

Nathan Rittenhouse: The people of God have living context in which the government has said, "You must kill." There's that. And I think a word of hope also in the same vein of what you're saying is that everything that Jesus asked me not to do in the Sermon on the Mount is legal in our country in one form or another already. We're already living with a very different ethic that, at this point, does fit mostly within the laws of the land. The laws that are being restrictive may be more of a classical Hobbesian sense, but a Christian ethic being a prescriptive way of giving an oughtness to the way that life should be lived. I think just to reaffirm what you were saying, that this isn't new or uncharted territory and nobody should ever be surprised when a Christian objects to any form of abortion. So, we can't do any jaw-dropping gasp of horror like, "I can't believe that another person believes that." No, that's pretty much standard fare.

Cameron McAllister: Yep. I think we're just coming more and more to a point ... I think this is a good concluding note, and thanks for hanging with us if you have. And I know, as Nathan pointed out, this has probably taken some interesting turns you didn't expect, but as usual at Thinking Out Loud, we also want to help frame thinking. We don't want to try to do all your thinking for you, but we also want to be clear and put our cards on the table.

I think a helpful note here to end on, then, and just to build a little bit on what Nathan was saying there, is that as Christians, we're coming to a juncture here, I think, in American history at least, and it's a unique one, in that we're basically we are going to have to ... There's going to be a price for being a Christian at this point, for really following Jesus. As Nathan pointed out, look at the Sermon on the Mount and everything that's prohibited is legal. And as it becomes less and less comfortable to be a Christian, as cultural Christianity becomes less of an option, I think it's a real opportunity for us to question, where is my allegiance? Who do I ultimately answer to? Is Christ my Lord?

And remember, if you look at ... It's interesting. I've been focusing so much on this lately, Nathan, as I've been looking through the Gospels and the so-called "hard sayings" of Jesus. A lot of us have mixed feelings about labeling those sayings, the "hard sayings" of Jesus. But He's just very uncompromising, and it's almost as though ... Because here Jesus says this very ... He's got huge crowds following Him. He's a very compelling person. He's saying amazing things. He's performing miracles. And He begins to say things like, "Whoever does not hate his mother and father, brothers and sisters, indeed whoever does not hate his own life is not worthy to follow me. Let the dead bury their dead. You follow me."

He starts to say these very uncompromising things. It begins to sound almost as though He's trying to talk people out of following Him. It's the opposite of course what these days if you've got a movement, if you're a charismatic kind of speaker and you got a large audience, you're giving TED talks, you want to be really persuasive and you want people on board. But Jesus is going after the heart. He wants to make sure, do you really want to follow me? Do you really want to be at odds with this world? Do you really, to the point of turning your back on everyone to follow me, even if it means persecution? Even if it means the hatred of the world? And so-

Nathan Rittenhouse: The second part of this then is when they ... It says, "He gives us hard teaching, and a lot of the crowd leaves." And Jesus doesn't chase them down. He turns to His disciples and says, "Do you want to leave too?"

Cameron McAllister: Yeah.

Nathan Rittenhouse: There's that part of it, but then their response is telling. They say, "To whom should we go? You are the one that have the words of life."

Cameron McAllister: Yep. Right. There's-

Nathan Rittenhouse: So there's a simultaneous acknowledgment of the difficulty of the deference to which Jesus is calling us, but, on the other hand, a recognition of the delight, the words of life to which Jesus is calling us, too. It's a high calling, but not impossible or unpleasurable.

Cameron McAllister: No. And you're not doing it alone. We are doing it as a community. This is where the church, this is why we need each other as the church, as the body of Christ. And so, yeah, there will be tensions and difficulties, but, again ... One quick note from our friend Dallas Willard. He says, "Yeah, we talk a lot about the cost of discipleship, but we talk less about the cost of non-discipleship." The cost of non-discipleship means you handle your whole life alone and all of this is on your shoulders., the world is on your shoulders. I think we have a very vivid picture of that by just looking at the cultural landscape right now in the United States, the rising loneliness, the so-called mental illness, just people feeling absolutely destroyed and alone.

The invitation of Christ is to abundant life and with Him and you're not alone. You're finally, you're free not from all constraint but you're free to be what you were made to be. That's the picture of Christianity. It's in stark contrast to the world around us, but I think it's the needed change. I think, again, I would repeat the disciples' quote there, "To whom shall we go? Jesus alone has the words of life."

Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, Cameron, I think you gave us some really wonderful quotes there and things to think about as far as we remember the stability of our own identity in community as Christians living in our time, as we engage in these issues. One of the things that frankly drives me crazy about our podcast is we're convincing ... Jesus convinced His disciples not to follow. This is why you shouldn't listen to our podcast, is that, by definition, I think both of us like to speak and to resolve things, and this podcast doesn't do that. It highlights issues and it kind of frames ways of thinking about issues.

But the one that you pointed out that I think is worth our listeners taking with them from this and having a discussion with somebody else about is, okay, if we do have just fundamental foundational conflicting ways of imagining that the world works or viewing the way the world works, how then do we communicate across those boundaries? That's the big unanswered question from our discussion today, but we're going to dodge out for the sake of time and allow those who are listening in to have that conversation. If you figure that out perfectly, write a book about it and send it to us, that would be great.

But, Cameron, thanks so much for chatting. And thank you guys for listening for a little bit of a longer episode here, but you've been listening to Thinking Out Loud, a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope.

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