Christian Worldview: Nature or Nurture
by A. J. Higgins
As believers, we maintain a Christian worldview. This is the equivalent of having our minds renewed (Rom 12:2) by the Word of God, seeing and evaluating everything the way in which God views it. Having a spiritual or renewed mind is not the idea of only thinking of spiritual and heavenly things. Our minds must be engaged in our occupations, education, family matters, and daily life. It means, however, having a mind which looks at everything through the filter of the Word of God.
Technology has advanced exponentially over the last several decades. Virtually every field of business, education, and science has been influenced by this. One field that has changed radically has been the field of genetics. The ability to “uncode” a gene and to link specific genes with specific traits is one of the remarkable feats to which geneticists have attained. The ability to link a gene or a set of genes to a particular disease has enabled early testing and detection. At present it does not always mean that a cure is possible; but the hope of many is that incurable and devastating genetic diseases will someday be controlled or prevented by “gene therapy” or other means. We should not be afraid of genetics; it is the means by which men discover the code which God has placed in His creation. We should, however, hope that they will put the knowledge to use for the benefit of humanity and not to justify sin.
Genetics is frequently in the news and attempts to link it with criminal behavior, sexual orientation, and personality traits, are common copy for articles. There is no question that gender, physical appearance, and certain natural endowments are genetic in origin. But for decades the debate has continued over the relative importance of nature and nurture in the final development of an individual. Many have a vested interest in arguing for nature (genetics); lawyers for the defense attempt to use this as a basis to characterize their defendants as “victims” of genetic blueprints. The gay-lesbian community has long sought genetic justification for their behavior. Even well-meaning (but unthinking) Christians have tried to hide behind their genetic makeup as an excuse for sins they have chosen not to abandon.
Nurture, or environment, upbringing, and life experiences, also has its advocates. Social scientists who believe in changing society to change humanity blame the existence of evil on social ills. No one would deny that poverty breeds crime and a myriad of other problems for a community; but every person born in poverty or living in a ghetto does not become violent or turn to crime. Likewise, wealthy, affluent individuals frequently are involved in crime. The last word has not been said concerning the nature-nurture debate; but most would agree that there is an interplay of both leading to the final development of the individual.
Nature endows us with a genetic blueprint, the keys upon which nurture then plays to compose the music of your life and mine. There is, however, one totally unpredictable element in this equation which must be taken into account. Human beings have a will, the ability to act in ways totally contrary to what nurture and nature may have imprinted.
We are all born as sons and daughters of Adam, a fallen race, with a proclivity to sin and selfishness. In that sense we all have a genetic makeup which is prone to sin. A sinful “disposition” only confirms the Scriptural truth of our “fallenness.” It does not afford us any justification for sinful behavior.
Genetics and Sexual Orientation
The search for a “gay gene” has been going on for several decades. Despite well-funded research, it has not been found. But even if found, it does not make homosexual behavior any more legitimate than it does for a genetically determined heterosexual to express sexual behavior outside of the Biblically defined marriage bond of male and female. Admittedly, the heterosexual does have the prospect of possible marriage and enjoyment of a physical relationship. The homosexual individual does not. This adds a burden for the individual with a same sex attraction who is a believer. Fortunately, God can supply grace to maintain a holy life for His glory and the individual’s eternal recompense.
A paper published in 2014 (Psychological Medicine 45; pp1379-1388) purported to show a genome wide linkage determining sexual orientation in men. The research, however, did not support the conclusion that DNA directly or indirectly determines sexual behavior. The genome is frequently the same in both heterosexual and homosexual males. Human behavior is far too complicated as it involves nature, nurture, and human will.
If there is ever proof of a genetic predisposition toward homosexual orientation, that will not make it right. Genetic predisposition to murder and violent crimes, which many argue does exist, does not make them right.
Genetics and Criminality
The issue of genetics and criminal behavior has tremendous implications. A few years ago, researchers supposedly discovered the “warrior gene” which made men aggressive and violent. For those interested, these were genetic variants: CDH13 and MAOA. When individuals with these genes imbibe alcohol, their risk for becoming violent increases. The same occurs when they add drugs to the mix. Does this mean that these individuals are not responsible for their crimes? The problem with this thinking is that many men have the genetic variant and yet do not commit violent crimes. Something more is involved in the final outcome. Attempts have been made to link genetic patterns with a tendency to mass murder. These studies, as well, have shown mixed results.
Genetics and the Transgender Movement
“It’s my body; I can do what I want with it!” Having jettisoned all links with Judeo-Christian ethics, having relegated the Bible to ancient myth, and God to an irrelevant deity, society has been left to the darkness of its own mind. As a result, self-centeredness has risen to new heights. It must be owned that since the fall, man has been a self-centered creature. What has changed in our 21st century society is that now this thinking is applauded as virtuous. This generation has been termed by some, as the “saturated-self” society.
With no greater being than “me,” and no higher calling than “self-satisfaction,” we have descended into the Age of Narcissism. This has ushered in everything from body piercing, to total body tattooing, and gender-changing surgery. This narcissistic thinking in our society has created an atmosphere out of which has come the transgender movement. It not only has made it permissible, but has created a subtle pressure to identify with the sports heroes and Hollywood stars who have “come out” and linked themselves with the LGBT movement. It has become fashionable to be transgender.
Even its advocates would agree that transgender surgery is an identification crisis. Cut off from God and the Word of God, it is little wonder that individuals do not know who they are. The irony in the transgender movement, is that an individual can be physically, hormonally, genetically, and chemically of one gender, and yet as a result of “feeling” that they are actually the other gender, opt for change. All the “evidence” points in one direction, but a sense of being trapped in a wrong-gender body leads to a desire to change. While there are far more factors involved than just this thinking, it is significant that individuals undergoing transgender surgery have higher suicide rate (Paul McHugh, Johns Hopkins Psychiatrist), than the normal population. This certainly reflects the emotional turmoil under which the individuals live.
It is significant that one’s “feelings” have become the benchmark for reality, rather than facts. Emotive ethics have become the basis for decision making and for establishing our cultural norms.
Some may point to the rare occurrences of those born as sexual hermaphrodites, or intersex, as justification for transgender surgery. These are individuals with ambiguous sexual organs and chromosomal abnormalities. These can hardly be used as justification for those with normal chromosomal patterns and sexual development of one gender, opting to change genders.
God intended our bodies to be for His glory and for His employment. We are to present our bodies (Rom 12:1-2); to hold our bodies in sanctity (1Cor 6:12-20), and to live the rest of our lives to the will of God (1Peter 4:2).
It is interesting that recently, a woman who headed a local NAACP, Rachel Dolezal, was confronted by the fact that she was not actually a black woman, but a woman born to Caucasian parents. Her “feeling” of being black did not make her black. She was roundly and soundly condemned because she was pretending to be what her DNA was not. Yet, the same media which condemned her, applauds and praises those who, by their transgender surgery, defy their DNA. There is, obviously, an inconsistency in this attitude.
Genetics and Personality
To the debate between the relative importance of nature vs. nurture in the final development of an individual, we must add a third influence – the new birth. Of the three, there is no question that the new birth has the potential to trump both nature and nurture. God has made a variety of personalities. He did not make carbon-copy Christians. We all have individual personalities; but we should all strive for the same character. If personality is the sum total of my emotional traits, then character is the sum total of my moral virtues. We are all different emotionally, but we all should be Christ-like in character. That character, in turn, should control my emotions.
This means that to hide behind the excuse so often heard, “That’s just the way God made me,” is to seek refuge in a lie. Nature did indeed “make me” a sinful, selfish nature, and personality. Life experiences, poor family beginnings, the nurturing, or lack of it, that I have known may have caused some serious emotional scars in my life. But as an adult, I cannot excuse sin in my life when God has endowed me, by virtue of a new birth, to have the capacity to overcome.
To say, “That’s just the way I am made,” is only to confess the nature of the problem. The problem is exactly that – it is natural for you to lose your temper, be selfish, act foolishly, hurt others, and a myriad of other sins. But we have a promise given to us by the Lord Jesus in connection with character development. When speaking of developing Christ-like fruit in our lives, He told us that we could ask the Father and He would do it for us (John 15:7, 8). The resources are available for change. The crucial issue is our willingness to be changed.
That means that a Christian should never settle for viewing himself as a “Christian with a bad temper,” or a “Christian with a weakness to pornography,” or a “homosexual Christian.” We do not define ourselves by sin. To do so is to deny what we are in Christ and to justify our sin and failure. In Corinth there were those who were once marked by the most immoral life styles imaginable, yet they had changed: “washed, sanctified, and justified” (1Cor 6:9-11) is how they are described. “Such were …” It was not how they were now defined.
To concede to helplessness before sinful tendencies is to deny the power of the Spirit of God to overcome and to change lives. He is not available to us for sin management or thought control, but for transformation.
Our Christian Worldview
The media blitz glorifying the gay-lesbian-transgender movement, the “coming out” of stars and athletes, and the tsunami of public opinion has the potential to blunt our sensitivity to sin and moral evil. We become comfortable with it and almost begin to accept it as inevitable and “normal” for some people. We must maintain a Biblical view of the evil around us, recognizing it is another master stroke by Satan in his relentless attempt to reverse everything which God has designed and ordained.
But our natural repulsion to some of these things must not make us repulsive to those we encounter who are dealing with these problems. You and I will face these individuals in the workplace, neighborhood, and in society. Regardless of orientation and behavior, they are candidates for God’s salvation just as you and I were. Engage them at the level of their need and not just at the level of the sin which bothers you. We must accord every human being the dignity which God has conferred upon humanity.
What of believers who may come to you and confess same-sex attraction? What of parents of those who have opted to identify with the gay-lesbian-transgender community? What is our view of them? How do we relate?
We must encourage believers who have any tendency toward same-sex attraction that they are loved and accepted. The struggle they have does not make them “outliers” or “fringe” Christians. Remember the lust with which you struggle. They must not think of themselves as abnormal and sick, but as those redeemed by Christ and possessed of His Holy Spirit, Who is able to work within and to change them. That does not mean they need to marry and enter into a heterosexual relationship. But it does mean they should never settle for anything less than the Spirit of God is able to produce in their lives.
Parents who have known the grief of children who have opted for a different lifestyle need our support and understanding. They have not failed any more than you or I have failed as parents. Children have a free will and that will may cause untold grief to parents. We should never add to that grief by inferring any culpability upon them for the choices their children have made.
Finally, as believers, we should never hide behind the false shield of genetic makeup to justify our sinful ways. Whether it be anger, jealousy, envy, selfishness, lying, lust, or any other sin, we should honestly recognize it for what it is and bring it before God in confession. Then, in dependence upon the Spirit of God, we can ask for grace to overcome and to be what our sinful nature was not able to make us – holy and Christlike.