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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

Probably each of us has had an experience that awakened our conscience, one that changed the way we looked at the world and ourselves, a moment of moral clarity that made us reflect, “I was blind, but now I see.”

As a young boy growing up in the rural south, water fountains labeled “White” and “Colored” were as normal to me as men and women restrooms. So when my grandmother took me to Woolworth one day, what caught my eye was not the separate lunch counter for “Colored”; it wasn’t even the fact that the “Colored” counter was located on a mezzanine just below the one for whites, which was a social statement, in and of itself. No, what was out of place was the “white” man sitting among all of those black people.

“Grandma, what is that white man doing there,” I asked.

Grandma surveyed the lower counter, then turned to me in a whisper, “Oh, he only looks white. He’s just very, very light, son.”

Somehow her answer failed to satisfy my young mind. I stole another look at the man at the counter. But try as hard as I could, the man was not “colored,” he was white. Obvious to my confusion, grandma leaned in and explained how differences in skin pigmentation can make one appear white.

For the next half hour, between sips on my cherry Coke, I glanced down at the mezzanine. It didn’t help that there were customers in our section darker than the man below. I remained puzzled.

That is not to say I didn’t have prejudices of my own; I certainly did. But that day was my first awareness that there was something much deeper than skin color here. In the following years, my conscience was stirred each time I returned to that scene. Nevertheless, it would be much later before another experience would bring me full-face with the evil underlying my thinking.

The West Wing
For Dr. Richard Selzer a moment of moral clarity came in the west wing of a university hospital in 1976. It was there that he witnessed the abortion of a 19-week old fetus involving a needle injection technique. In the Esquire article, “What I Saw at the Abortion Clinic,” Selzer writes,

I see something! It is unexpected, utterly unexpected… I see a movement—a small one. But I have seen it. And then I see it again. And now I see that it is the hub of the needle in the woman’s belly that has jerked. First to one side. Then to the other side. Once more it wobbles, is tugged, like a fishing line nibbled by a sunfish…

Dr. Selzer goes on to say that the vision of the fetus struggling for life will be ever etched in his mind; and, that whatever language is used to defend abortion is powerless to erase that image. “For what can language do against the truth of what I saw?”

I was blind, but now I see.

The Streets of Birmingham
Shortly after that lunch in Woolworth’s, I heard terms in the schoolyard like “high yellow” and “mulatto,” which I later learned wasn’t a matter of one’s skin color, but of one’s bloodline. That made it sensible, giving me a rational basis for discriminating between “us” and “them.”

Then on May 2, 1963, Birmingham firefighters turned fire hoses and dogs on a group of young civil rights protesters. Although I had heard about this shocking incident, it didn’t become real until I saw the actual footage years later. The vision of young black students pounded to the ground by water guns, and others with their clothes and flesh ripped open by German shepherds shook me to the core. But more chilling was seeing that this wasn’t the act of angry citizens; it was the work of law officers acting on the orders of elected officials. That became my moment of moral clarity. No more could I justify my complacence about racial prejudice.

I was blind, but now I see.

The Streets of New York
Moments of moral clarity can also come upon an entire community. Dr. Selzer tells of an experience that jolted a neighborhood out of moral slumber. Continue reading here.

According to evolutionary scientist Jerry Coyne, religion is so hopelessly inimical to science that any attempt to reconcile them is futile. As Coyne explains, “accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard [between rationality and irrationality].” And just so you’re clear on which conventional faith he has in mind, he adds, “…rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births.”

Jerry Coyne, like other peddlers of scientism, considers religion a “science-stopper” that conditions the faithful to approach the frontiers of science with “God did it!” contentment. The truth is another matter.

A scientist who approaches the world as a product of intelligence rather than of matter and motion is less likely to stop short of discovery. Instead of dismissing a feature that, consistent with the evolution narrative, appears inert or unnecessary, he is more inclined to push his investigation to unravel its function and purpose. The ever-shrinking lists of “vestigial” organs and “junk” DNA being two examples.

Rather than obstructing science, Christianity, with its emphasis on a personal Creator, inspired an age of discovery that opened the way for science.

Igniting Discovery
The ancients generally viewed the world as an unpredictable place governed by the fates or by the whims of the gods. But once investigators understood the universe as the work of a rational God, embedded with rational principles, and to be apprehended by rational beings—they dared to imagine that discovery was possible. One of the first was an astronomer whose theories ignited the Scientific Revolution.

Speculations about a sun-centered universe had been around for some time; but challenges to the Aristotelian model refined by Ptolemy, didn’t gain serious attention until the “Copernican Turn” in the sixteenth century.

Nicolaus Copernicus was a Christian who understood the universe as an intelligible creation that operated according to mathematically coherent principles. His initial attraction to heliocentrism was not the result of new observational data, but of his notion that the sun—symbolic of God as Light and Lamp—seemed a fitful center of divine activity. He, along with other early researchers, believed that the elegant structure observed in creation should be describable in an elegant fashion. Thus, when heliocentrism proved more mathematically simple than the reigning earth-centered model, it gained a slow following.

Like Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, was a man of faith who believed that the mysteries of nature could be unlocked with the key of mathematics. Kepler put it this way, “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which he has revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”

Kepler’s belief in the mathematical precision of the universe led to his discovery of three fundamental laws of planetary motion; the foremost, that the planetary orbits are elliptical, rather than circular, as modeled by Copernicus.

While the discovery of mathematical elegance was the product of faith for these pioneers, it has been the source of faith for others. In his book, Truth Decay, Douglas Groothuis, shares the account of a Russian physicist: “I was in Siberia and met God there while working on my equations. I suddenly realized that the beauty of these equations had to have a purpose and design behind them, and I felt deep in my spirit that God was speaking to me through these equations.” In that moment, the young scientist stepped over the chasm from atheism to theism and, ultimately, Christianity.

Copernicus and Kepler published their paradigm-shifting theories without much controversy. It was a different story for Galileo, who drew the full ire of the Catholic Church. Continue reading here.

It seems that pro-lifers are not-so pro-life. According to a recent Gallup poll, 46 percent of Americans identify as pro-life, but only 18 percent say that abortion should be “illegal in all” circumstances. So what accounts for this moral confusion?

For one thing, the ease with which we rationalize morality down.

It goes something like this: Imagine an exceptional circumstance to a moral issue and subject it to a moral calculus until what is morally prohibitive becomes morally acceptable, if not commendable.

In the abortion rights debate, those exceptions are rape, incest, and health of the mother—circumstances with high empathy quotients, especially when imagining a wife, daughter, sister, or oneself as a victim. People who poll pro-life, yet support some form of legalized abortion, have concluded it would be too difficult, unloving, or cruel for a woman to bear a child under those conditions.

Often their reasoning follows an alluring Golden Rule logic: “loving neighbor as self” means sparing him from any consequence I would want [my wife, daughter, sister, myself] to be spared from.

Further tipping the scale is that with a million abortions per year, nearly everyone knows a friend, neighbor, coworker, or family member who has had one. Thus, a person who deems abortion in the abstract as morally wrong, can be less inclined to be so when circumstances are real and close to home.

But let’s examine the calculus. Read on here.