Saturday, 8 November 2008

opinion columns collected

In The Times Michael Smith writes that The crisis of confidence ignites a crisis of conscience.

In the Guardian Ian Bradley writes about TV talent shows in Face to faith.

At Comment is free Stephen Bates writes on How the faithful voted.

Gregory Chisholm at Thinking Faith explains What scares me about Obama (h/t Simon Barrow).

Giles Fraser writes in the Church Times about Defending the Church by living out the gospel.

Christopher Howse writes in the Telegraph about Dame Felicitas’s handwarmer sold by nuns.

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Fraser comments "A great priest I knew once told me he could not care less about his own salvation."

One of the tragedies for Jesus is that saints and priests were so busy trying to flatter him that they did not hold him to account for fulfilling the messianic requirements.

One of the joys of the Old Testament is witnessing how God is delighted by souls who confront and challenge God to hold the precepts that are purported to be God's.

For example Job, or Abraham's challenge at Genesis 18:25 "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 10:17am GMT

Stephen Bates misses, I think, an important part of Obama's support and one that suggests future futility for the GOP/Evangelical alliance.

Voters under 30 went for Obama almost three to one. These are the "kids" who grew up under Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush...who have seen that alliance result in policies at opposition to their world view--a world view that says blacks and gays are just people, that abortion is an option not a cause, that women are as capable as men.

And the generation behind them is even more clearly of that mindset.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 11:27am GMT

Two comments on Stephen Bates's piece:
(1) I have no idea which way I would have voted were I a US citizen (probably for a minority candidate?) - but, either way, to be 'antediluvian' is morally neutral. What is so anti-academic is the way that people use modernity and fashionability as criteria of truth. Which of course, logically, they never could be. The criterion of truth is accuracy.
-So, to take abortion as an example, either a human being is being killed or a human being is not being killed. The way to determine this is, obviously, not an examination which way social trends have gone. It is not remotely a sociological matter, but a biological matter. Isn't that right?

(2) I am sure that there is quite a strong international correlation between traditional beliefs (as opposed to 1960s western liberalism) and higher birth rate (as opposed to lower). The latter worldview is (on average) by its very nature more self-centred and focussed on personal fulfilment, less on family, so this is not surprising. What is less clear is the extent to which children's voting intentions are liable to follow their parents' - but I guess there are stats on that somewhere. Might 70% be an informed estimate?

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 12:06pm GMT

"He became husband to the daughter of American slaves"

Barrow's comments are interesting, and I like the way he addresses the deep deep fear in Conservatives. I have felt fear in the last two Canadian elections at what would happen to the country, and me as a gay man, if the Conservatives won a majority, and I know that American liberals have chafed under the yolk of the Republicans for so long their relief and joy at Obama's victory are overwhelming. But the fear in American conservatives defies belief. They think he's a Marxist becuse he has spoken of redistribution of wealth? In Canada, we take the idea of redistribution of wealth for granted, more or less, but in the US, it seems that phrase is accompanied by the rumbling sound of Communist tanks! But the comment above is an interesting one. How old IS Michelle Obama? Even if her parents were infants at Emancipation, that would mean she couldn't have been born after, at the most, 1910. She looks incredible for a near centenarian!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 1:37pm GMT

"How old IS Michelle Obama? Even if her parents were infants at Emancipation, that would mean she couldn't have been born after, at the most, 1910. She looks incredible for a near centenarian!"

Surely if the Bible can refer to the far-off descendants of the Biblical patriarch as the "Children of Israel," then you can call Ms. Obama "the daughter of American slaves." Or, if you want to be really multi-culti, refer to the Koran's saying that Mary was a "daughter of Aaron."

Posted by: BillyD on Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 8:00pm GMT

"either a human being is being killed or a human being is not being killed."

Not so. Consider the nine months of gestation as a single point. That is when human life begins. Now extend that out to nine months. Can you say where in that span of time, that you once considered to be a single point, life actually DOES begin? Is it not more true to say that human life doesn't really begin at a single point? That is the attitude of Scripture after all, if the Psalms are anything to go by. And it has been a major part of the anti-abortion debate from the beginning. Quickening, recognizability, capability of independent extruterine life, all have been considered to be the point where life begins. So, no, even the Psalms suggest to us that it is not this simple.

"The way to determine this is, obviously, not an examination which way social trends have gone."

Definitely. And I think we should avoid modern social trends such as the absolutism, defence of a particular sexual/gender/political agenda, judgement of and desire to punish women who dare to get themselves pregnant without authorization, and reductio ad absurdum arguments about the beginning of life that have characterized this debate for decades.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Saturday, 8 November 2008 at 9:05pm GMT

As usual, the vicar of Saint Mary's, Putney, is right on the ball with his comments about Gospel:

"All of this is a welcome reminder that the Church is at its most impressive when it is least concerned with defending itself, and most concerned with preaching the gospel. Only those who care for gospel values more than they care for the Church will truly and surely defend the institution they love. There is a moral here for those of us in the C of E who are obsessed with defending our little patch of the Church. Let us live out the gospel, and let whatever happens to the Church happen." C.T. article 7 November 08.

If we could all recognise the Church as merely the agency of the Gospel, and not the Gospel itself, perhaps we would be less worried about the future of the Anglican Communion. Maybe those who insist on criticising the Church on perceived deficiencies may have to find another vehicle for their self-absorbed rites of purification.

Without the essence of 'self-abandonment to the Divine Providence' in our relationships with one another in Christ, the Church is devoid of meaning. "They'll know you're my disciples by your love!"

Those who are obsessed with distancing themselves from all issues of justice, which could in fact reflect the values of Jesus in the Gospels, might be guilty of Eccesiastical Idolatry. This is the state of putting the 'tidiness' of Church structures before the exigency of the Gospel.

The word 'Gospel' means 'Good News' of:- the release of those who are captives to bigotry, the recovery of sight to those who are blind, and the testimony of God's inexorable love for all who are created in the divine image and likeness. God's salvation gift of Christ must be offered for all the world. Anything less than this might rather be 'bad news' than Gospel. "God so loved the World....." not just the Church.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 9 November 2008 at 2:06am GMT

I think Pat O'Neill is correct and younger voters certainly went heavily for Obama. I thought I had somewhat covered the matter in my penultimate paragraph but it was clearly not the main point of the article. Divisions are certainly developing both between younger evangelicals and their seniors over issues such as the environment - over whether they follow Biblical imperatives to be stewards of the earth or, to coin a phrase, "burn, baby, burn" because the end times are coming- and also with wider society which believes issues such as the culture wars ones are less important than their economic futures.
As for Christopher Shell - oh dear, he doesn't really do irony, does he? I am perfectly well aware of the meaning of antediluvian Christopher - that's why I used it. It was one of the first words they taught us at Oxford. I was deploying it, rather wittily I thought, in its meaning of before the flood which, considering how many in the Religious Right are Creationists, I had believed to be somehow appropriate.
I thought Christopher knew my views on abortion since, on a previous thread here he eventually had to apologise for lazily assuming that I must hold, in his terms, liberal views on the matter merely because I work for the Guardian

Posted by: stephen bates on Sunday, 9 November 2008 at 1:43pm GMT

I shudder to continue a discussion of abortion here, but Tobias Haller had an interesting discussion on his blog, recently.

If, in the Hebrew law, a woman suspected of adultery was made to drink a "test", whose result would be to induce abortion (and subsequent sterility) if the fetus were adultery-produced, the "Judeo" part of "Judeo-Christian tradition" clearly has a very COMPLEX view of "human life" and its beginnings! [FWIW, Jesus never saw fit to address this matter---even w/ a "You have heard... but I say to you"]

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 9 November 2008 at 8:30pm GMT

"I am sure that there is quite a strong international correlation between traditional beliefs (as opposed to 1960s western liberalism) and higher birth rate (as opposed to lower). The latter worldview is (on average) by its very nature more self-centred and focussed on personal fulfilment, less on family, so this is not surprising." - Christopher Shell on Stephen Bates.

Not too surpriing a response from C.S., to a very insightful article from Stehpen Bates. Why do the conservatives always impute ignoble motives to the emerging young people of the world? Could they not not rather be thinking about the idea of sustainability of the universe - not just for themselves, but also for future generations?

On the matter of abortion; The anti-stance is usually twinned with the anti-contraception lobby in politics and in the Church. This not a 'social equivalence', but needs to be taken into account when dealing with the problems of over-population, which is shaping up to be one of the major concerns of our age.

In countries where thousands are starving every day, the problems of unlimited procreation are something with which the Church ought surely to be concerned, and contraception is one sure way of countering undue population growth. However, fundamental religious purity/morality arguments are of little help in this situation.

Another point for Christopher Shell to consider may be that 'personal fulfilment' is not necessarily antithetical to religious faith. -
"I came that they might have life - abundant life" - the words of Jesus.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 9 November 2008 at 9:13pm GMT

In a straw poll at our 'cafe service' yesterday morning (mostly under-40's, but including a clergy couple recently retired here from the USA) we had 1 vote for McCain, one for Nader, and the rest was sea of hands for Obama.

I don't know how much that reflects the starry-eyed reporting of Obama in our TV and media, but I was encouraged that our 95% caucasian Somerset congregation weren't remotely bothered about Obama's race. But then we had been looking at the Good Samaritan...

Posted by: David Keen on Monday, 10 November 2008 at 10:30am GMT

""burn, baby, burn" because the end times are coming"

It's the same thing with certain Evangelicals and Bushite foreign policy: support Israel because the Jews must be in the Holy Land before the Second Coming can occur. It's bad enough to believe that, because they have convinced themselves of their faithfulness to the letter of the Law they are more righteous than the rest of us and get to tell us what to do, but that this righteousness actually makes them entitled to force God's hand is unbelievable hubris.

"Why do the conservatives always impute ignoble motives to the emerging young people of the world?"

This isn't my idea, but I think it's a good one: legalistic conservatives know that, without Law and the threat of punishment, they would not behave in a moral fashion, they thus don't believe anyone else is capable of it either. They enlist the Fall in this argument, and accuse anyone who thinks otherwise of Pelagianism. Look at Calvinist "total depravity". Furthermore, abortion is about allowing those little tarts to go out and do what they like and get themselves up a stump, and just GET AWAY WITH IT!!!! The nerve! Christopher dresses his antiabortion talk up in some very nice words, but he tipped his hand long ago, showing pretty clearly that he's of the "those little tarts must be punished" brigade.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 10 November 2008 at 11:35am GMT

"Surely if the Bible can refer to the far-off descendants of the Biblical patriarch as the "Children of Israel," then you can call Ms. Obama "the daughter of American slaves.""

Admiring though I may be of Barak Obama, I'm not inclined to speak of him, nor his wife, in Biblical terms. By that definition, I am a child of Anglo-Saxon invaders, or of oppressed North American First Nations, take your pick. Besides, lighten up! It was a joke.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 10 November 2008 at 2:07pm GMT

Ford's posting is not unreasonable. I still remember the evangelical who told me that Jesus would not come to heal this world, and that the only correct reading of scriptures was his return in a flaming cloud for all the world to see as he mass murdered all but the chosen people and took them away to their new heaven and new earth.

Don't know why God would give them a new earth. They haven't been able to look after this one. Plus, since they seem incapable of considering a woman's feelings, showing remorse or compassion, or repenting and asking for forgiveness, then there's not much point in a new earth. They'll be just as selfish and abusive as they were in this one.

The people who voted for Obama voted for life and a future, not just for the chosen selfish few, but for an entire planet. They do not deserve dissmissive accusations, souls who undertake such strategies should not be surprised to find their straw man theology discredited.

Revelation 3:9 "I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you."

Obama rides on the wave of understanding that God is God of all Creation, and that God wants to be in positive collaborative relationship with any who work for life. Jesus' covenant specifically exists to protect the selfish from the wrath of God. Jesus is not the gate keeper to God, God can bypass Jesus to rescue the abused and to work collaboratively with the righteous, of whatever faith or paradigm. Jesus has no right to complain if God works with those that his Christians shunned and abused.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Monday, 10 November 2008 at 3:07pm GMT

Ford is right on target!

What goes on in the legalistic mind is precisely this:"If there weren't a lot of laws and restrictions to keep ME under control, I would probably become a moral monster -- therefore I assume that everyone ELSE must be legally controlled and restricted or they (like me) would become moral monsters!"

The control-freaks and the ecclesiastical legalists are telling us more about themselves than about anyone else.

Posted by: John-Julian, OJN on Monday, 10 November 2008 at 4:20pm GMT

Besides, lighten up! It was a joke.

Sorry, my bad.

And if you're not accustomed to speaking of the Obamas in Biblical terms, you'd better get on the ball. Haven't you heard? He's the Antichrist!

Posted by: BillyD on Monday, 10 November 2008 at 4:50pm GMT

JCF, thanks for the note. Again not wanting to pull this off into a discussion on abortion, but it is true that the Jewish teaching on the subject is not the same as the conservative Christian teaching Evangelical or Roman Catholic). Most importantly, a fetus is not considered to be a "nephesh" ("a living person") until birth. Abortion to save the life of the mother is always permitted under Orthodox Jewish law, even in very late stages.

I echo Stephen Bates, in that I would not want anyone to assume my own position on the moral licitness of abortion on the basis of my reporting on the tradition in Jewish and Christian thinking.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Monday, 10 November 2008 at 6:10pm GMT

I'm afraid I just do not get CShell's deftly manuevered arguments on so many TA threads, including this one.

Example. If raising children is a sign of the kingdom feast, then what do we do about the huge, huge, huge gaby boom that has taken place in the last ten to twenty years in USA queer communities - including queer communities of color? One supposes he will quickly shift gears to claim that good parenting is only good and parenting when his sort of very conservative religious straight people do it.

Good luck trying to sell that knee-jerk bias to, say, COLAGE - Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere. (SEE: http://www.colage.org ) Ten million productive citizens raised, and counting.

I believe the Southern Baptists in USA have been threatening for years to outbreed everybody else, hence winning their special day via sheer numbers.

As to CS estimate of 70 percent being strictly influenced by their parents conservative religious views - well so far, most USA surveys report that, say, evangelical USA believers under thirty years old are significantly more in unheated favor of gay marriage - based simply on the common sense ethical notion (as well as their direct neighborly observance of couples in daily life) to the effect that ethical committed relationships are better than silence, invisibility, and the traditionalistic commitments preached about how you simply must go to hell in a handbasket as quickly as possible just because you happen to be among the queer folks in USA. Even among younger conservative religious folks who still hold negative judgments about queer folks, the heat has gone down considerably as the strong traditional fear and disgust tilt towards a live and let live feeling base. Even younger believers who still think sex is traditionalistically sinful among queer folks, period, less and less often see it as any more sinful than, say, getting a speeding ticket? For that change sector, then, the sky may not be falling down just because queer folks who used to sleaze around are now dating, then making lifelong commitments to each other in joy and great care that often spills over happily on coworkers, friends, and extended family members.

The USA Bible Belt keeps such a closed heart and mind that it begs for change agents to grow up, move to the coasts and so forth. Support for mandatory shock treatments and prison is dying out.

Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 10 November 2008 at 7:59pm GMT

"And if you're not accustomed to speaking of the Obamas in Biblical terms, you'd better get on the ball. Haven't you heard? He's the Antichrist!"

Or the Second Coming. Depends who you talk to. The way some people talk, you'd think you'd missed the Liberal Rapture. And you're no quicker than me to jump on things. Try making a reference to "orthodox Anglicans" and my knee'll jerk so fast, you won't know what hit you.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 10 November 2008 at 11:14pm GMT

Responses:

(1) Hi Ford-
There are many concepts one could focus on in the when-to-abort debate. There are three (life, viability, personhood) which are particularly favoured by pro-choice for at least 3 reasons: (a) they are the more likely to produce a result in their favour; (b) two of them are philosophical rather than scientific, and therefore less susceptible of a clear answer when one wants to avoid a clear answer; (c) 'life' can mean many things (breath; life-span; 'quickening'; organic individual; item composed of DNA) so let's cloud the issue by promoting ambiguity: ambiguity will in its turn demand pluralism. (It will be noted that three of the five definitions of life above are inimical to the pro-choice stance.) Now...there is less need for philosophical discussion when (as here) scientific discussion is possible. Which makes one wonder why philosophical concepts are being employed. All we need to know is that individual human beings begin at fertilisation (after which comes continuity of development), and that human DNA is the most complex and 'peak' thing that exists, something its ubiquity cannot take away. If human DNA is so great, how much greater a real multi-dimensioned human individual?
Second, why voice the 'should be punished' line? Why are women more culpable than men; and why do you think it is better that people whould have rights without responsibilities in any arena - let alone one where life-and-death issues are involved?

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Tuesday, 11 November 2008 at 12:23pm GMT

Hi Stephen-
If you are against abortion and still mark it as 'antediluvian' in a negative sense, then I'm not yet sure what your position is. Surely in many ways (as religious correspondents go) you are/were comparatively ideal for the Guardian? (Though of course, since I abhor preaching to the converted and value growth through confrontation of differences, not ideal from my point of view.)

If there are two groups of people one prepared to abort and the other not, then it is common sense that the first group will on average have a clearly lower birth rate (this also to drdanfee).

Hi Fr Ron-
John 10.10 is the greatest verse in the Bible - paraphrased by Revd Nash as 'life at its best'. And it's true. It doesn't have a lot to do with self-fulfilment in the modern understanding of self-fulfilment. In the Christian/NT system, self is of course liable to be one of the enemies (world-flesh-devil; things like duty, obedience, self-sacrifice, loving others incl. enemies - these tend to be some of the important virtues - and it is difficult even to speak of 'virtue' at all as opposed to speaking of the fruit of the Spirit). But of course those who lose their lives (ie die to self) do then find them, and when they are re-found they are better than before. That is a broad summary of the NT perspective.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Tuesday, 11 November 2008 at 12:35pm GMT

Christopher:

You leave out one important part of the abortion debate: the choice between the good (including the psychological health) of the mother and the life of fetus. Putting the life of the fetus before the well-being of the mother is ultimately a moral choice, one that is rooted--for the most part--in religious and philosophical determinations of which has the greater value.

Does government in a secular, pluralist society have any business making religious, philosophical, moral choices of that kind for its citizens?

This is why those of us on the opposite side of the issue from you call ourselves "pro-choice"--we think the choice is best left to the individuals involved and not to the government.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 11 November 2008 at 4:14pm GMT

I agree John 10:10 is one of the greatest verses in the bible "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

Another profound passage is Matthew 19:18 "“ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’’”

The bible is in large part about rebuking those who decide that others are "unworthy" or "too dirty" to merit grace, and thus dignity and a place in society. It's also about treating people with honor and respect. Not just the living, but also the unseen and dead.

After all, we Moses and Elijah at Jesus' transfiguration. If Moses and Elijahs' consciousnesses and awareness of this planet continue, then so do all the prophets, saints, matriarchs and patriarchs, up to and including Adam and Eve. How many people ever bother to wonder how they feel they are portrayed and spoken about?

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Tuesday, 11 November 2008 at 6:32pm GMT

Christopher,

When speaking of losing one's life in order to take it up again: the end in itself, with some people, is a pretty good motivation for kenosis.

Do you not think that there are people in this world who hardly have attained to the quality of life that ought to be theirs - because of the prejudice that exists, too often in the community of the Church. Some of these people - especially young gays - are so miserable because of the lack of acceptance of them that they want to surrender their lives in the act of suicide. Is that a desirable way of 'giving up one's life' in order to take it up again?

Surely one has to first attain to a quality of life that is worth living - 'abundant life' - (and for a gay persons, that might be just to be accepted as a legitimately functioning human being) before one can be said to engage in true kenosis.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 12 November 2008 at 10:03am GMT

Christopher

"individual human beings begin at fertilisation"

I agree, but are they fully human at that point?

"human DNA is the most complex and 'peak' thing that exists"

No, and here you reveal your misunderstanding of science. Human DNA is no more complex than any other. DNA works the same and has the same basic structure in all creatures. You also can't claim that we have more DNA, so I guess, more genes, than other creatures, because others creatures have more than us. So, no, human DNA is not the most complex thing that is, even in terms of vertebrate biology.

"Why are women more culpable than men"

They're not, but I don't recall any of your statements on this being about men. Maybe I have just missed it. And "culpable"? Culpable in what?

"why do you think it is better that people whould have rights without responsibilities in any arena"

I don't, never have. But abortion is not about "avoiding responsibilities" in the sense you seem to be implying. Let there be no mistake, I believe that during an abortion a human being dies. I just don't think that my personal belief is absolute in such a complex issue. I also don't think that the attitudes that have characterized this debate have been helpful. Each side is defining the issue in their own way and refusing to even contemplate the position of the other. You seem not to care about the issues raised by the pro-abortion side.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 12 November 2008 at 1:08pm GMT

Hi Pat-

You are probably aware that 'psychological health' is so ill-defined that it can be taken to mean almost anything. Hence the present strictly illegal but (more importantly) amoral abortion on demand. I'm surprised that you didn't raise this point.

However, the point is irrelevant anyway. Because only in cases where the mother's physical life is at risk does she stand to lose as much as the baby. Otherwise we are discriminating against the baby by saying (in the vast majority of cases) that one human's entire life is worth less than a comparatively small proportion of another human's (not even life, but) perceived wellbeing.

There is also something sick about any parent wanting so badly to terminate their own child, and about the idea that this is in their interests. The killing of one's own child is normally the stuff of the most heart-rending tragedies, e.g. Sohrab and Rustum.

People know very well that many, many fundamental things begin when a couple have sex leading to fertilisation: (1) fertilisation itself; (2) a life-span; (3) a new, separate individual (DNA-wise); (4) a human being (DNA-wise); (5) the parent's offspring i.e. child. (I am sure there are others too.) If even one of these five were the case, it is hard to imagine the state of the people's consciences who do not see any harm in stepping in and exterminating.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 12 November 2008 at 1:57pm GMT

Christopher:
You really are rather obtuse, aren't you? My reference to antediluvian applied to Democrats' disdain for the religious vote and had nothing to do with what I think about abortion. Perhaps in future I should add a supplementary paragraph whenever I write something saying: "If someone called Christopher Shell reads this, it may not mean what he assumes it does."
You still seem to find it hard to believe that someone who writes for a particular media outlet might not agree with everything that's in it. Whisper it quietly, but I used to work for a number of years for first the Daily Telegraph and then the Daily Mail and I didn't agree with everything in those papers either.
The Guardian has plenty of people (and readers) who think all religion is rubbish - just read the threads on Comment is Free - but also very many religious readers (including I happen to know both English CofE archbishops and any number of bishops, vicars, priests, nuns and monks of all denominations to say nothing of people of other faiths and worshippers in the pews, mosques and synagogues). Religious folk also write for us - but then of course you probably wouldn't notice - so does that mean they are closet atheists too? Only in Shellworld perhaps.
We devote more space to religion and a range of religious views almost certainly than any other British secular newspaper, not to prosyletise for an atheist, or religious, view of the world, but because we think religion is an important subject and that you cannot understand the world without knowing something about it.
It is also absolutely ridiculous for you to assert that whole groups of people would hold identical views on any given subject, on abortion for example - almost as stupid as Richard Land of the Southern Baptists claiming to me two years ago that the Republicans were building a permanent majority because Democrats aborted their babies.
I am sure that those who voted for Barack Obama last week had a very wide range of views on issues such as that, indeed there seems to be evidence that black Democrat voters may have had a hand in providing the majority for the California amendment against gay marriage.
Can you really not understand that people might have a range of views? Or are you willfully, or just irredeemably, dim?

Posted by: stephen bates on Wednesday, 12 November 2008 at 2:44pm GMT

"There is also something sick about any parent wanting so badly to terminate their own child"

OK, so not "should be punished" in every case, then. In some instances, it seems, the decision to have an abortion is an illness. How do you feel about birth control, Christopher?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 13 November 2008 at 11:11am GMT

"If even one of these five were the case, it is hard to imagine the state of the people's consciences who do not see any harm in stepping in and exterminating."

It's a question of relative harm, Christopher. Not all harm is equal.

Let's put it this way: You see a car crash with two victims trapped inside--a mother with three children and a baby. You can only save one of them. Which do you choose?

And, believe me, those who choose to abort their pregnancies are not oblivious to the hard moral choice they are making. I've never met anyone who had an abortion who did it without serious consideration.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 13 November 2008 at 11:38am GMT

"Let's put it this way: You see a car crash with two victims trapped inside--a mother with three children and a baby. You can only save one of them. Which do you choose?"

I'm not sure that this illustration really illuminates the issue. My answer would be, "The baby," but I think you'd be hard pressed to guess my thoughts on abortion based on it.

Posted by: BillyD on Thursday, 13 November 2008 at 4:45pm GMT

There isn't a regular subscriber to TA who likes abortion.

There are subscribers who are aware of a dissonance of concern for the yet-to-be-born child contrasted to a contempt for independent human beings.

We talk of the need to protect the defenceless and those who can not defend themselves.

An unborn child clearly falls into that category.

That principle also applies to those who have been deprived or resources and deprived the right to advocate on their behalf.

As Christians we are called to proect those who can not defend themselves. So when we see a society that makes it illegal for people to work, to speak without being assaulted or insulted, deprived of legal rights or advocacy; then it is our place to move to protect them. Examples of such souls include women who are killed to restore family "honor", GLBTs who are murdered or sent to prison for simply being what they are, indigenous communities who are to be "assimilated" (a euphormism for genocide), minorities or underclasses haunted by death squads or state repression, children who are abused by priests or others, the abandoned and disabled.

It is righteous to be vehement in protection of the defenceless. It is hypocrisy and opportunism to only partly apply the principles to some of the people some of the time.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Thursday, 13 November 2008 at 5:19pm GMT

BillyD:

I'm interested--why the baby? To me, saving the mother protects four people: the mother and her three children. Saving the baby only protects the baby.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 13 November 2008 at 9:30pm GMT

"My answer would be, "The baby," but I think you'd be hard pressed to guess my thoughts on abortion based on it."

And I'd pick the mother. Better a grieving parent than four orphans, less risk of social maladjustment, I'd think. Not that orphanhood necessarily means social maladjustment, but the risk is there. But, no, you can't tell my attitude to abortion from that either. But the point is that abortion is the sme kind of moral issue, not some absolute issue of people wantonly killing babies.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 13 November 2008 at 10:31pm GMT

"I'm interested--why the baby? To me, saving the mother protects four people: the mother and her three children. Saving the baby only protects the baby."

Well, I don't think that by not saving the mother I'm writing off her children. Either the rest of her family will step in, or the State or Church will, or (if we're doing one of those desert island thingees) I'd take responsibility for them. At any rate, it's not as if we automatically kill children whose mothers die. So the numbers of people involved didn't affect my decision.

The mother has already had a chance to experience life, whereas the baby's chance to see the sunrise or fall in love was about to be snatched away. Heck, the mother's already had a chance to pass on her genes.

I also suppose that the fact that adults can generally help themselves and have some control over their destinies to some extent, whereas babies are absolutely helpless, had something to do with it. Even though mom can't do anything to help herself in the car wreck, she probably chose to get into the car; the baby didn't.

Maybe my being a teacher plays some small role. In general, I think we have a greater responsibility to children.

None of this may seem terribly logical, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it. :-)

Posted by: BillyD on Thursday, 13 November 2008 at 11:37pm GMT

Here's another "who do you save" question that is perhaps more to the point:

"A fire breaks out in a fertility clinic and you have a choice: You can save a three-year-old child or a Petri dish containing 10 seven-day old embryos. Which do you choose to rescue?"

This comes from http://www.reason.com/news/show/34948.html

Posted by: BillyD on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 1:02am GMT

"And I'd pick the mother. Better a grieving parent than four orphans..."

One of us has misread the set-up. It said that there are *two* victims trapped inside, "one a mother with three children" (which I read as "a mother of three children") "and a baby." Woman + baby = 2 victims. If the woman had her children there with her, there would be five victims trapped in the car, and you'd have to choose among the five.

And do you really think that a mother would let you rescue her and leave her three children behind to burn, or drown, or whatever horrible thing is about to happen? Well, she might - witness Susan Smith and other modern-day Medeas. But if she were willing to sacrifice her children for herself, IMNSHO, it would be proof that she wasn't the right one to save after all.

Posted by: BillyD on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 3:27am GMT

Billy D
"Maybe my being a teacher plays some small role. In general, I think we have a greater responsibility to children. "

That's interesting, because my response was to save the mother. It is true that the other children will be looked after somehow, but it is also true that they wills suffer terribly from the loss of their mother, possibly from being broken up into different families, or worse, "cared for" by the State.

Whereas if the baby dies, the mother will grive for her child but the rest of the family has a chance of a normal life for all of them

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 10:28am GMT

"And I'd pick the mother. Better a grieving parent than four orphans..."

I don't think anyone has missed the set-up. The 3 children were not in the car, but they will still be orphaned if the mother isn't saved.

Your petri dish question is interesting. Of course I'd save the 3 year old. That's an actual child with actual parents.

That's not making a decision on the value of each life (some clearly do have to be lost in the examples we're discussing), but in the extent of suffering resulting from each decision.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 10:32am GMT

"I don't think anyone has missed the set-up. The 3 children were not in the car, but they will still be orphaned if the mother isn't saved."

Oh, the grieving parent you referred to was the parent of the baby! Duh!

Posted by: BillyD on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 11:53am GMT

"The 3 children were not in the car, but they will still be orphaned if the mother isn't saved."

Two further points on this: we don't know that they will be orphaned, since there's no word of the fate of the father. Maybe he wasn't in the car at all. And I didn't assume that the baby was the child of the trapped mother; the set-up didn't say. So you might get four grieving parents out of the deal, not one.

Posted by: BillyD on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 12:47pm GMT

"Your petri dish question is interesting."

Thanks. It seems the most obvious question to put to those who maintain that "life begins at conception" and that "abortion is murder."

Posted by: BillyD on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 12:52pm GMT

Hi Stephen-

I much appreciate your central point as it is one I repeatedly make myself. In other words, the fallacy of believing that 'every little boy or girl that's born into this world alive is either a little democrat or else a little republican' - as W.S. Gilbert didn't quite write. Floating voters strike me as being of above average intelligence. Which is why the clear bias of outlets such as Guardian, Telegraph and Mail annoys me. These are biases on average, not across the board.

I find the Guardian to give just about the fullest and (often) most intelligent coverage of any national daily; more's the pity, then, that such a wilful bias or kowtowing to loyal readership occurs in the virtual censoring of such a multitude of pretty basic and glaringly obvious points about the origin of human life whenever the abortion debate comes up.

Hi Pat-
Moral choices where the two options involve respectively one death and no deaths are not normally classified as being among the hardest to decide - though it is in the interests of many so to classify them.

I am glad that serious debate is being stimulated - as the line about 'no-one has an abortion without serious consideration' is thoroughly belied by the fact that it is difficult even to find decision-makers/MPs (let alone men and women in the street) who have even considered more than a small fraction of the issues raised in e.g. R. Alcorn 'Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments'.

Would also be grateful for responses to my point about the five things that clearly *do* begin when a couple has (so top speak ) 'successful' sex. Would not any one of these 5 be enough, let alone all 5? These are the kind of questions that the powers that be (in my experience) are only too glad to sidestep.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 1:13pm GMT

Hi Ford-

I missed the one on birth control. I have never been able to escape from an extremely strong sense that its unnaturalness is one and the same thing as its stealing of ultimate pleasure just at the point where anyone would want the latter to be maximised. This is probably tied in with BC's unpopularity which is so strange to some (do these people have a death wish or something? No, it's not just that, though it may include that; rather, it strikes me that they are going with a very deep sense that no-contraception is the way things should be. Of course that is only possible, risk-free, with monogamy - but many lines of argument, on many different topics, lead back to that same conclusion.)

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 1:28pm GMT

"stealing of ultimate pleasure"

I don't follow the argument you are trying to make in the last post, but this comment I don't get at all. How does birth control "steal ultimate pleasure"? Is sex "ultimate pleasure", or the creation of a child? Surely, for the Christian, theosis is the ultimate pleasure. I've had some pretty good sex in my time, but I doubt it will come close to what is found in the Kingdom!

And, BillyD, you make an interesting argument. Let's say the woman in the car is not the mother of the child. So, by saving the child, we are leaving three children to be raised by a single father. Now most conservatives point out that single parent families are more at risk for social maladjustment of the children, though this is certainly not absolute. So, you see the potential risk of three socially maladjusted adults to be less important than losing one baby. Fair enough. I don't. It is interesting in the context of this discussion on abortion to observe a modern phenomenon: Western crime rates have been falling over the past 20-30 years, which is exactly the time in which children aborted under Rowe v Wade would have been coming to adulthood, and attaining an age when they would have been getting involved in crime, if their life paths had led them to such a situation. There is certainly not enough evidence to posit a connection here, and I doubt if anyone has done any kind of study into this, but it is an interesting observation, none the less.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 2:43pm GMT

"So, you see the potential risk of three socially maladjusted adults to be less important than losing one baby."

Aren't you assuming a lot based on the potential of the kids to be maladjusted. What if the woman is a mess, herself? What if she's wicked?

Posted by: BillyD on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 5:06pm GMT

Christopher:

Again, we come down to the moral/philosophical/theological debate: Is a fetus a fully formed human being? Is its continued existence to be preferred to the physical and mental well-being of its mother? Should any decision regarding these questions be left to the individuals directly involved, or should society/government (especially a pluralistic, secular society) be making those choices for everyone?

My own stand, which you can probably figure out, is that, absent a state religion, those choices belong in the hands of the people directly involved, as society/government has no business making such philosophical/moral/theological determinations for anyone.

And of course those who have not experienced the quandary of actually considering an abortion have not seriously thought about these issues in these terms. Humans seldom seriously consider such things unless personally confronted with them. I don't know anyone who hasn't had a loved one die young who has seriously considered the consequences of that, either.


Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 7:29pm GMT

"potential of the kids to be maladjusted"

But the entire argument is based on potential. Aren't you doing the same thing WRT the baby, assuming its potential to grow up to be good? There is also the potential that s/he will grow up to be a criminal, after all. And it's a pretty big assumption that the family or the State will step in. Especially the latter. Especially in the US. And the argument that a mother who would allow her child to die is perhaps not the best mother anyway is a bit much. There were a fair number of Jewish women in the 40s faced with exactly that choice, I don't think their fitness for motherhood is necessarily in doubt because of it. Sorry to Godwin.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 14 November 2008 at 8:04pm GMT

Pat-

Your question 'Is the fetus a fully-formed human being?' is the weakness of your position - for two reasons: (1) Nor is a born baby a FFHB - nor is a child - because human development is a continuum; (2) Even if the fetus were not a FFHB, the logic of 'Not a FFHB and *therefore* can be killed' is...non-existent. The ultimate non-sequitur.

In any case, the question is not who makes the decision but assuring that whoever makes it is someone who has thought fully about the situation in the round. This can currently be guaranteed of neither parents nor state - and if you think that is fine, then from the point of view of the interests of the child it's clear that it is not fine.

Hi Ford-
On human DNA as opposed to other DNA: as you know I am the world's worst scientist. But people are always quoting that human DNA is ninety-something percent the same as chimps' etc.. How can that be the case if all DNA is exactly the same?

'Ultimate pleasure': I mean ultimate in 2 senses simultaneously: (a) the maximum possible at a given time; (b) the maximum possible at any time whatever. However, what I wrote applied largely to in-vogue barrier methods which are the logical and unwelcome/unpleasurable consequence of divorcing sex from marriage in the first place. Without the joy of union, then the whole point is missed.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 15 November 2008 at 12:24pm GMT

Christopher
"'Not a FFHB and *therefore* can be killed' is...non-existent"

I would understand this argument better if the church - ANY church - treated all beginning human life as a full human being. But no-one offers burials for early miscariages, no-one treats them in the same way as a stillbirth or the death of a post-birth baby.

About 25% of all pregnancies result in miscarriages, yet there is no particular Christian recognition of these "deaths", no rites associated with them.

If we really believed that these embryos have the same moral status as full human beings, we would not be making those distinctions.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 15 November 2008 at 1:51pm GMT

Christopher:

I doubt you would find anyone on either side of this issue who would describe a born child as NOT a "fully formed human being." And, again, if you think the parents involved in a potential abortion have not fully considered the decision in all respects, then you have little regard for the thinking processes of human beings. I don't know anyone who has been involved in that process who decided (either way) as a quick, spur-of-the-moment, thing.

All DNA is the same because DNA is simply a protein: deoxyribonucleic acid. It's how that protein is arranged in our cells that makes species and individuals different. And, yes, chimps and humans are about 98% alike in that arrangement (actually bonobos--once called pygmy chimps--are even closer to humans in that regard).

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Saturday, 15 November 2008 at 1:56pm GMT

"About 25% of all pregnancies result in miscarriages, yet there is no particular Christian recognition of these "deaths", no rites associated with them."

Don't forget the large percentage of fertilized eggs that fail to implant, and are flushed out with the woman's menstrual flow.

Posted by: BillyD on Saturday, 15 November 2008 at 2:51pm GMT

"Your question 'Is the fetus a fully-formed human being?' is the weakness of your position - for two reasons: (1) Nor is a born baby a FFHB - nor is a child - because human development is a continuum;"

Mere semantics. Perhaps it would be more helpful to leave out "fully formed" from the question. No one doubts that a baby ("born baby" is simply tortured English) is a human being, with the exception of moral monsters like Peter Singer.

Posted by: BillyD on Saturday, 15 November 2008 at 2:55pm GMT

"'Not a FFHB and *therefore* can be killed' is...non-existent"

Essentially, I agree, but great thinkers of the Church have in the past considered recognizable human form as the beginning of life, so not so much a logical flaw as we might think.

"How can that be the case if all DNA is exactly the same?"

I'm oversimplifying here, but DNA is made up of four different 'bases' labelled A,T,C, and G that link together, A to T, G to C, to form 'base pairs'. These same bases exist and are linked in the same way in all creatures. There are stretches of any particular gene that form a code for a particular protein product. Then, there are other bits that control when the gene is turned on and off, how much of its product gets produced, etc. The timing of activation of some genes plays a critical role in the formation of a human being rather than a chimp. Also, while our DNA is 99% the same as that of a chimp, it is not the case that for every hundred genes, one is different. It's more like in each gene, one in a hundred base pairs is different. So, the timing of activation of various genes differs in the development of chimps and humans, and many genes differ in subtle ways, and it is these kinds of differences that matter. It's like bricks. If all bricks are the same, how come brick buildings vary so much?

"in-vogue barrier methods which are the logical and unwelcome/unpleasurable consequence"

Speak for yourself! Sorry to be so crude, but if a barrier method of contraception takes away your pleasure, you're doing it wrong!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Sunday, 16 November 2008 at 5:48pm GMT

Hi Erika-
For ages now, vast swathes of people have not been bound by official positions of their own denomination, since they can think for themsleves. If anyone did bury their own miscarriage, I would expect that person to be more than usually thoughtful and caring. But the main point is: You can't get an ought from an is. Just becasue something *is* not conventional, that does not mean it *ought* not to be. Most people will just go along with what is conventional without stopping to question it.

Hi Pat-
So, then, by virtue of arrangement not constitution, human DNA is a different thing from any other kind of DNA. But even if the two were identical in both arrangement and constitution (and maybe in the early period of genstation they are identical? - I don't know) that would be quite irrelevant, since everyone knows that whatever is inside a human will develop into a human. There is not even the slightest chance it will develop into a chimp or any other animal.

Of course, no-one doubts that a born baby is a human being. My question is whether anyone has any grounds other than the inadequate and cruel 'out of sight, out of mind' for doubting that an *unborn* baby is a human being. So far, all that has been said is what people do or do not doubt - which is irrelevant without stating the actual grounds for their doubt and seeing whether these grounds hold water. (And in any case, even in a parallel universe where there were genuine doubt about an unborn baby's humanity, the principle of benefit of the doubt would apply. This principle applies in all matters, even trivial ones, so how can it not apply most particularly in those cases related to human life and death?)

Hi Ford-
(1) By the same token, it's no good appealing to 'great thinkers', only to 'great arguments'.
(2) I am not talking of physical pleasure only, but of the joy of full union which is the entire point, the sine qua non.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Monday, 17 November 2008 at 1:07pm GMT

Babies are formed as soon as they are concieved.
This is basic Biblical teaching
See Luke 1/2

Posted by: J on Monday, 17 November 2008 at 2:47pm GMT

J wrote: "Babies are formed as soon as they are concieved.
This is basic Biblical teaching
See Luke 1/2"

Fair enough. Would you please answer the fertility clinic question then?...A fire breaks out in a fertility clinic and you have a choice: You can save a three-year-old child or a Petri dish containing 10 seven-day old embryos. Which do you choose to rescue?

Posted by: BillyD on Monday, 17 November 2008 at 3:23pm GMT

Christopher Shell wrote: " My question is whether anyone has any grounds other than the inadequate and cruel 'out of sight, out of mind' for doubting that an *unborn* baby is a human being."

You seem not to doubt that "unborn babies" are human beings. Would you please answer the same question I posed to J (about the burning fertility clinic)?

Posted by: BillyD on Monday, 17 November 2008 at 3:31pm GMT

"My question is whether anyone has any grounds other than the inadequate and cruel 'out of sight, out of mind' for doubting that an *unborn* baby is a human being."

To which my point was that some very significant people in the Church in times past have considered they have had grounds to make exactly that argument. And it isn't about "out of sight, out of mind" either. Again, showing your colours, Christopher.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 at 11:45am GMT

Ford:

Exactly. To me, it is about what constitutes a human being, beyond the physical form. The ancients defined it as "when does God place the soul in the body?" For centuries it was defined as "quickening" (when the mother could feel the fetus move).

For me, it is a difficult question to answer. I know what MY answer is, but I would hesitate to impose that answer on anyone else...hence my support for a woman's right to choose--because the answer in her case should be HER answer, not mine, not the government's.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 at 2:19pm GMT

Hi Pat-
The woman's answer will be subjective in most cases, which is unfair on the baby (and indeed on the parent's moral development). Not ''feeling'' that a baby is real can have a lot to do with not seeing or bonding with that baby - it has little to do with reality. And it is unfair to the baby not to base decisions on reality, but on subjective impressions which can hardly be *more* reliable than scientific reality, and will generally be *less*. A retreat into the pre-scientific dark ages.

Again, in a society which does not so much encourage parents to take moral responsibility and is not above allowing them two choices (to procreate and to abort) where the baby has none, a parent is less likely to stand against the tide.

Hi Ford-
Then all you need to do is to say what those grounds (held by church luminaries) are, and we can examine whether they hold water. Second, there's no point saying the ground is *not* 'out of sight, out of mind' unless one says what the actual ground/basis *is*.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 at 12:18pm GMT

"there's no point saying the ground is *not* 'out of sight, out of mind' unless one says what the actual ground/basis *is*."

The actual ground would be variable. For some, they already have too big a family to care for, others have been raped, others are too young, and on and on. It is your willingness to consider "out of sight, out of mind" as the only reason, or perhaps the more common reason, or perhaps the only reason you can come up with that shows your true colours, Christopher. If you could see your way clear to accepting that at least some of the women who have abortions do so for reasons other than a blatant disregard for human life, it would not appear as though you are just sitting in judgement on people whose lives you know nothing about.

As to whether or not we accept the arguments made by great thinkers and doctors of the Church, on any issue, well, they are more expert in these matters than I am. If you do not feel the same way, so be it, but I'm not about to put myself on the same level of spirituality and scholarship as those who have been recognized by the Church as great Christian thinkers.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 at 1:52pm GMT

Christopher
"Then all you need to do is to say what those grounds (held by church luminaries) are, and we can examine whether they hold water."

But as you clearly appear to accept no grounds at all and believe abortion to be wrong in all circumstances, there isn't much point in examining any arguments. You've already made up your mind that they are all defficient and that no pregnant woman who aborts can ever have a valid reason.

You're not actually here to talk about this but simply to condemn as immoral those who have a different view.

Or is there anything at all that would, in your view, ever justify an abortion, or cause you to have compassion and understanding for any woman who aborts?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 at 2:40pm GMT

Hi Erika-
That is the reverse of my position, which is that no position should be adjudged worthy of consideration if it lacks supporting arguments. Mere assertions don't qualify, and can sometimes be nothing but expressions of a preferred ideology.

Ford's post, as far as I can see, says that it is just for an adult to have two choices (to have sex in the first place; and to terminate their baby) where the baby has none: no decisions made in their own interest. Since this clearly is *not* just or equal (unless in the minuscule number of cases involving parents who do not know where babies come from) the point would need to be answered if your overall stance were to be adjudged a serious one. All the more so given that it is the baby who has so much more to lose. This is a clear example not only of discrimination, but of 'might is right', the imposition of power by the powerful over the powerless, those with a voice over the voiceless.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Thursday, 20 November 2008 at 12:14pm GMT
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