…three for a girl, and four for a boy

29 10 2010

Yesterday I did an hour long Q&A session where I was grilled on a number of theological topics. It was good fun, though challenging! In the midst of it, (a pleasant relief from suffering and predestination) I was asked an interesting question, and one I’d never really considered before: ‘Is it Biblical to discover the sex of your child before it’s born?’ Here’s the essence of the answer I gave… I’m sure if I thought about it more, I might nuance it differently, but hey: What do you think?

Of course, in Biblical times the technology we have today was not available. There were no pre-natal scans. That said, angels did have a nasty habit of turning up and telling the likes of Mary and Elizabeth not only the gender of their child, but what to call them! (I picture Joseph with his fingers in his ears complaining that the angel had ‘ruined the surprise.’)

But angelic encounters aside, the Bible says nothing prescriptive about this issue. I think it is a matter of personal choice, and it is a decision that each couple must make for themselves. However, I think there are a few Biblical principles that I would want to throw into the discussion:

Children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3). I would say that each couple should take the course of action that helps them to enjoy and prize that gift the most, and that will be different from person to person based on a number of factors, including personality type, hopes for the future and preconceptions.

An example: A little while ago I had arranged to take my wife to a top-end restaurant – one in which we had always wanted to eat, but never thought we’d manage to! I had been planning (and saving!) for this for quite some time, and deliberated over how I should tell her. Should we just turn up there on the day, a complete surprise? Or should I tell her in advance to give her time to get excited? Knowing my wife, and how she responds to things like this, I knew that she would value the treat more if I gave her a week’s notice. Sure enough, when I told her she was excited and couldn’t quite believe it was true! Over the next week, she enjoyed thinking about what she would wear, what it would be like, reading through the chef’s cookbook and dreaming about how the food would taste. It turned it from a meal into an experience.

Some people respond well to surprises and others don’t. If knowing the gender of your child in advance will help you to enjoy and prize the gift God has given you, then go for it. But if you thrive on surprise, then don’t. Waiting to see as the child emerges could be one of the rare, unparalleled, real surprises of your life.

Since children are a gift, we need to trust God to determine their gender. In some cultures, baby girls are valued less than boys, and female infanticide is still practised! In less extreme situations, some people spend all their lives longing for a girl, and get disappointed when they find out they’re having a boy. If you have a strong preference either way, and are likely to be disappointed, or not value/love the child if he/she turns out to be the opposite gender to what you had hoped for, then I would say you need to think really carefully about whether or not you find out in advance. For some people, knowing with a few months warning will give them time to get used to the idea, and to prepare to love the child. For others, knowing in advance may cause them to develop negative emotions towards the child, and they would be better off using the time in the run up to the birth to iron out their preconceived ideas and to discipline themselves to see their child as a gift and a privilege, whatever the gender.

It comes down to knowing yourself, and knowing your spouse, and discussing it openly and honestly together.

Also, it is worth remembering that technology is not infallible! Some couples think they’re getting a boy and prepare accordingly; only choose male names, buy football kits and deck out the bedroom with pictures of wrestlers, only to find out that little floating thing they could see so distinctly in the scan wasn’t quite what they thought it was!!

And finally, my main reason for nervousness is the trajectory it represents. In a relatively short period of time we have gone from not being at all able to know the gender of your child, to being able to scan for both gender and potential illnesses. Whilst there are arguably benefits to knowing ahead of time if your child may be born with a serious illness, I have little doubt that such technological ability has led to a significant rise in abortions. And following the trajectory through, we are already seeing the beginnings of the ability to create ‘designer babies.’ Whilst I am not uncomfortable with knowing the gender of your child before its birth, the thoughts of how that technology has advanced and will continue to advance does leave me feeling uneasy.

So those were the thoughts I shared in the moment, on the spot. I don’t yet have children, and I’ve never had this conversation with my wife (Though she was in the room when the question was asked! A slightly awkward setting to open a discussion on this!) So on the one hand I feel thoroughly unqualified to offer any thoughts on the subject, yet on the other, I enjoyed being made to think about it.


“Bring me Mary Bale’s head on a plate!”

28 08 2010

If I receive one more Facebook message about giving money to the RSPCA to support Lola the cat, or putting Mary Bale in a box and chucking her into the ocean, I think I will give up on this world and throw myself in a wheelie bin!

I imagine you’ve heard about this ‘vile grey-haired cat hater’ from Coventry. If not, go ahead and watch the video. The lady has become an overnight international hate figure, and I have received countless links on Facebook asking me to petition for her arrest and donate money to the RSPCA.

A couple of thoughts:

First: When someone sends me a link to a video of a slightly deranged pensioner hurling a cat into a bin, and I see that 43,000 people like it, I don’t know what to make of that!

  • Is that 43,000 people who like and support the (presumably tongue in cheek?!) calls for her death?
  • 43,000 people who like what she did and support her cause?
  • 43,000 people who like the RSPCA and have donated to them on the back of this news item?
  • 43,000 people who just found it funny and couldn’t care an iota about the moral issue?

There’s just something infuriating about seeing so many people expressing their inflammatory, hyperbole-laden opinions with no sense of accountability or follow up. It winds me up. If Facebook has become the ‘agora’ of our day; where people gather to debate the intricacies of serious ethical issues, God help us all!

Second: Let’s keep this in perspective. Mary Bale is not worse than Hitler. And don’t let any of my Jewish friends see that ridiculously insensitive name for a Facebook group. I can just about stomach calling her the Purrminator. That made me smirk a little (before feeling guilty at being amused by such a ridiculous pun).

Consider this:

  • On that same day, approximately 548 human foetuses were discarded in the UK. They didn’t get have the good fortune of being rescued when a passer by heard a faint whimpering.
  • On that same day, approximately 464 people slept on the streets in England. How many more have to eat out of bins on any given day because they can’t afford to feed themselves?
  • The RSPCA gets roughly £115million of donations each year and is one of the richest charities in the UK
  • Shelter receives £24.5m of voluntary donations a year
  • In the same week in Vancouver a homeless man fell asleep in a bin, which was then picked up by a rubbish truck. The man was about to be crushed in the compacter when a bystander heard his screams and alerted the driver. He survived, but with broken bones, and still no home to return to.

I’m not anti-pets. I’m not anti the RSPCA. If this serves to up the awareness of animal cruelty, fine. If people want to give their money to animal-related charities rather than human ones, well I prefer that to a complete lack of charity! I don’t agree with causing animals pain. But please… some perspective.

(And if you dare to click that you ‘like’ this post, you’d jolly well better qualify that!)

The Language of Lateness

29 06 2010

Jenny is Late

Katie is Late

Shareen is Late

I am sick and tired of seeing these ladies’ lifestories depicted on billboards as I ride the escalators at the underground station day in, day out. For one, I don’t even know if they’re real. But here’s my big gripe:

They’re not late – they’re pregnant!

I have strong opinions on abortion. But laying those aside for the moment, forgetting the science, the ethics, the psychological effects of the procedure, and focusing purely on the marketing strategy behind those adverts – when I see those posters it makes me sick.

It’s the rhetoric that does it. The choice of words. How dare they take a highly complex, intricate, dare I say ‘miraculous’ biological process like ‘life’ and reduce it to an inane, everyday, pedestrian term like ‘late.’ Sure; they’re both monosyllabic, four letter L-words, but one connotes mystery – the other, the mundane.

Wordsmiths and rhetoricians need to understand better the power of their words. One word, but with so much latent potential. The pen truly is mightier than both the sword and syringe. As soon as you say ‘late’ you evoke feelings of negativity, frustration, personal inconvenience. Are they good grounds for termination?

I’m not saying that everybody who undergoes abortion does so out of such trivial motivations, and I don’t want to make light of the people who go through the agonising decision process under extreme circumstances. But tell me, how would those hypothetical, stock examples that are constantly thrown at pro-lifers, feel about having their traumatic circumstances described in such pedestrian terms?

Lynda was raped by a complete stranger, without any provocation. She is deeply traumatised and is undergoing extensive counselling. She feels that the child will be a constant reminder of her deeply upsetting experience.

Anna has being trying to conceive for many years. After finally succeeding, she has now discovered that her pregnancy poses a serious threat to her life. If she were to continue, she would face a high chance of dying in childbirth, and would likely lose the child also.

These, and other such examples, are regularly cited to show the apparent ‘inhumanity’ of pro-lifers, who would, presumably, argue that Lynda and Anna should not go through the abortion process. Lynda and Anna have endured awful experiences and need comfort, support, counselling, guidance, genuine love, acceptance, and impartial advice. They are both victims; one of an evil crime, and one of a twist of genetics. Or as Marie Stopes would put it – they are ‘late.’

I’m just saying, irrespective of your moral stance, it’s a totally inappropriate word to describe this life-changing experience! It justifies the trivial, and trivialises the painful. How many lives will be ruined, and children aborted because someone decided ‘late’ was a more acceptable term to describe the early stages of pregnancy? I plead for some common sense – for people to see through the rhetoric, and for the advertising companies to take responsibility for the power they wield.

And if the escalator ever grinds to a halt and I find myself with a sharpie to hand, I may dabble in a little rhetoric of my own:

Jenny has been inconvenienced, and has better things to do with her life

Katie never stopped to wonder if the loser she was sleeping with would stick around to raise a child

Shareen is in need of love, support and guidance