fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-04-13 07:41 pm
Entry tags:

Objecting to Desmond Tutu Commencement Speech

Apparently some alumni of Ganzaga University (a Jesuit school in Spokane, WA) is scheduled to have Desmond Tutu deliver their commencement address. Some of the alumni aren't too crazy about the idea. Their beef?

Patrick Kirby, a 1993 Gonzaga graduate, said Tutu is pro-abortion rights, has made offensive statements toward Jews and supports contraception and the ordination of gay clergy and shouldn’t be honored by a Catholic institution.

Frankly, I think it's a huge honor to have Rvd. Tutu speaking at your commencement. I would have been inspired by it, as a student or a parent. If his views on sexuality are able to outweigh all of the work he's done on racial justice and positive peace, that's a sad state of affairs indeed.

This is what so disappoints me about institutional Christianity these days (and this really isn't a uniquely Catholic problem, though their own emphasis can drive me as batty as anyone else's at times). There are so many other issues. Callousness toward the poor, racial hatred, misogyny, culture of perpetual war, fetishization of power, lack of connection with the environment, pick your issue - any of them would be a better recipient of the time and energy we devote to talk about contraception + abortion + sex ed.

Honestly. Sometimes my country feels like an eight-year old boy, chuckling because someone said "Titicaca." I respect the right of various faith communities to work out their ethics and grapple with these issues. I just wish they'd prioritize a bit better!

(Originally posted to LJ; please comment there.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-04-06 09:36 pm
Entry tags:

Christian ethics: ur doing it rong

Over at FB, I've seen several people post this meme;

Read more... )

It's not that different from lots of other memes that float around there, and I feel a bit guilty for singling it out. Particularly as I'll be posting a link of this to FB and really don't want to single out my particular friends. So let me say at the start - I'm not trying to single out the people who shared this. I know they meant well, and my frustrations have to do with a much larger problem. In particular, several larger problems.

#1. Armchair Activism: I always get frustrated with altruism, activism, whatever that doesn't require any real sacrifice. The Kony2012 video is a great example of this phenomenon. You also see it in stores that make donations if you buy a certain product, like the recent October Baby that would donate ten percent of the profit to pro-life groups. Whatever practical good they do, they inoculate us. There's something we're supposed to care deeply about, but all we have to do is go to the movie, or share a YouTube video, or share a picture on FaceBook. And suddenly we feel like we've done our part.

Loving God and loving your neighbor should require more than that. It's supposed to be hard - certainly harder than sharing the news about the new Hobbit movie. And of course there's nothing wrong with doing the simple stuff either. But I know in my experience, with things like this, so often this is the end of the story. You're outraged over child soldiers, you share the video, and there's this catharsis; your angst is relieved. My faith requires more of me.

#2. The "Christian Nation" Vibe: This picture says that 97% of FB users won't repost this simple message. I bristle at drives to "won't you please forward/repost this" on principle - they strike me as manipulative even when they're not meant that way! - but here in particular it seems to assume that all FB users are the kind of people who will post Christian-themed things. There are around two billion Christians in the world, last I heard - roughly 1/3 of the world's population. And that includes people who are Catholic because they were born in Italy, or Southern Baptist because they were white and born in Atlanta, or whatever.

In lots of areas of the world, if you're born there and you don't really think that much about religion or theology, you're probably going to be a member of a certain religion. It's actually a very rare person who considers the different views on offer by the different religions and secularism, chooses the one that best matches up with his own, and is as likely to be a Buddhist or a Jew as he was a Baptist. It's a matter of identity (and of necessity - understanding theology takes a lifetime of study and living with it; not everyone can afford that). Christian Scripture pretty much teaches this fact - cf. Mt 25.

Whatever you think of people like this, it's not just that they're lazy. Acting like the whole world is Christian, let alone devout Christians, is misleading at best.

(For the record, I'm one of those Christians that feels odd about public professions of faith. Not because I'm embarrassed or anything, but because what Jesus said about using faith in God as identity - you know, the people that prayed loudly in the temple, who'd already received their reward. It's not laziness on my part, either.)

#3. He Sees You When You're Sleeping... It's the last bit that really pushes my button. You should post this picture because: "Repost if you love God. He already saw you read it. That's just insulting on many levels, as if the way I live out my faith is just because God's watching over my shoulder. It actually reminded me about another meme I've been meaning to blog about. Will just link to it because it has some triggers for domestic violence, but I can't say it any more plainly: the kind of love depicted in that picture - and that grows out of the fear implied in that last line - is not worthy of worship. Or even sharing on FaceBook. And it's definitely not worthy of God.

(Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-03-05 05:15 pm

more on abortion, infanticide, and personhood

 I actually saw this one coming a mile away:

What the 'After-Birth Abortion' and 'Personhood' Debates Have in Common

A few weeks back I wrote about a journal article proposing that infanticides just after birth should have the same legal status as abortions just before. Meaning that they should be legal if the mother's welfare was at risk, and not even called infanticides. I find this claim preposterous, and I tried my best to explain why. Basically, I think there's a big distinction between legal status and moral status.

ChristianityToday, a major online and print magazine in the evangelical (not necessarily conservative, not necessarily fundamentalist, but just evangelical) publishing world made the above post in one of their associated blogs. Basically, the argument goes, this whole debate over infanticide comes from the recognition that there's no recognizable distinction between a fetus and an infant, meaning we should give  all the rights of an infant to a fetus. Think the personhood bills you've seen put out in U.S. states like Mississippi and Colorado.

The problem here is that the concepts of "fetus" and "born human" (to say nothing of human and person generally) are really not so simple, and we're using them like they are. I tend to think the whole abortion debate would be much, much easier if we thought about what we meant by a fetus. I'll grant that a fetus a minute before birth has more in common with an infant one minute after birth, than it does with a fetus one minute after conception. I'll even grant that some of the ways these three things are similar and different are morally relevant. All that proves, though, is that a fetus is a distinction where the members in it don't all have the same moral status.

There are a lot of big philosophical words floating around in there, so let me try to make this simpler. I'll give you that it's morally wrong to kill a fetus one minute before it's born. (Allowing the usual exceptions for self-defense, etc.) That doesn't mean it should be morally wrong to kill any fetus. And, just for the record, it doesn't actually mean it should be illegal to kill a fetus one minute before birth. The law's a blunt instrument and may not be up to the task of splitting that moral hair. It just means that not all fetuses are in the same position, morally speaking.

While we're on the concept of distinctions, it's worth looking at one more: human vs. person. On one definition, it's quite obvious that a newly-fertilized zygote is human. So is an amputated leg or fingernail clippings. Human here just means "has human DNA" or "has human cellular structure." But a doctor who amputates a leg to save the patient doesn't have to go through a hospital board inquiry, and I didn't have to explain to the police why I cut my nails last night. There's another definition of "human," which philosophers both prefer to call "person" to avoid speciesism and to avoid the confusion of using human in more than two ways. Persons are members of the moral community, things that have rights and responsibilities. Some philosophers use  the ability to feel pain; more common is the sentience idea, or the ability to act on something other than just instinct. But when a scientist or a bioethicist talks about a fetus being human, they don't usually mean it in the personhood case.

So to sum up:

  1. Yes, fetuses are (genetically) human.
  2. No, not all fetuses are humans/persons in the moral sense.
  3. The solution is not to call a zygote a person – it is to recognize that fetuses exist along a continuum, and while some may reasonably be called a person, not all can.
  4. So: drop this drive to call a zygote a person. It's not helping.

I am actually as dismayed by this journal article's claim as anyone else. The solution, though, isn't to double down and insist all fetuses are people. It's to recognize the very real difference between a zygote smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, and an eight-month old human baby that could survive on its own outside the womb.

It also wouldn't hurt to distinguish between a late-term fetus's right to life, and the mother of a late-term fetus's obligation to preserve that life. She may have such an obligation based on her past actions of not terminating the pregnancy, not using appropriate birth control, etc. (depending on the situation – this is a big if), but it's not all about a "right to life." There are other concerns that play out here, and the dueling claims in this situation are complicated. You don't do anyone any good by pretending this is a simple issue.

(Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-02-03 09:13 am

God and Goodness - A Reply

Over at his blog, my friend Dan Fincke posted a dialogue looking at the connection between goodness and God. He's created two fictional characters, a Christian named Robin and an atheist named Jaime, who start out by discussing whether it makes sense to call the God described in the Bible good. They later move to the topic of whether it makes sense to think of goodness at all, if God did not exist to create it. Jaime eventually works his* way around to an argument that the Yahweh described in the Bible can't be the God Christians claim to believe in.

I want to explain why Jaime's argument (at least some of it) doesn't really hold up for me. But first I want to go on Plato safari, because a lot of the arguments Jaime uses are eerily familiar to the Euthyphro dilemma about Divine Command Theory. I don't think I've ever explained that philosophical concept before, so I'll take the opportunity to do that now. That's section I. Then there are some important distinctions I think Jaime needs to take into account, which I'll explain in part II. Finally, I'll try to bring all these concepts together to critique Jaime's position in part III. If you know the basic gist of the Euthyphro dilemma you can probably skip down.

But first, a quick comment on Dan's dialogue. Dan usually takes great pains to use gender-neutral names in these dialogues, but these particular names sorted themselves into he's and she's rather quickly. That's because to my mind Jaime that name is pronounced HIE meh, a distinctly masculine name. As for Robin, I had a good female friend with that name so I thought of her immediately. Since gender-neutral pronouns typically drive me crazy, I'm going to go with "he" for Jaime and "she" for Robin, out of convenience. I don't mean anything else by assigning gender roles, and I hope Dan won't mind too much.


Part I: The Euthyphro Dilemma )
Part II: There's Good, and Then There's Good )
Part III: Critiquing Jaime )

I'd be interested in other peoples' thoughts. Do you think it makes sense to describe God as good, in either sense? (Assuming you believe God exists, obviously.) How do you make sense of things like the genocide of the Canaanites? And I'd welcome opinions from theists and atheists on any other point I raised, or that Dan raised and you want to talk about. Have at it!


Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2012-02-01 06:06 pm

on Obamacare, justice, and the public good

I've been following the debate over health care mandates, freedom of conscience, and religious exemptions pretty closely. It's really very interesting and (for me at least) very personal.

For those of you who aren't American or, you know, have lives to live that don't involve watching the news, the new health care bill basically requires everyone to carry insurance. If you can't afford it, you get a tax-paid subsidy to help out; if you refuse, you pay a penalty to cover the cost of health care if you get sick. The problem is that many companies only offer very minimal coverage – either really high deductibles (the amount you have to pay before insurance kicks in) or low caps (after which you're responsible for the bills). So to help with that problem, Congress said that each eligible plan – meaning, the plans that will let you avoid the penalty – have to provide a certain level of coverage in several defined areas.

And one of those areas was reproductive health for women. Anyone familiar with American politics and the *erm* heightened interest anything to do with sex seems to draw.

Even before the law passed, it was on record that no taxpayer money could go to fund abortions. I wasn't crazy about that decision, but at the time I accepted as the price of doing business. Personally the thought of people with money deciding what medically-necessary health procedures I should have access to (yes, even if they're footing the bill) really bothers me. This is basically because I recognize that yes, capitalism is great at encouraging innovation and hard work and all that, but it really and truly sucks at distributing resources in a fair way. I think that middle- and upper-class people are generally overpaid, meaning that we should give up our money to fill the actual needs of the poor. I see this as a moral duty, and I don't think I should get to say how that money is actually used. So I don't think I should be able to tell a poor woman she can't have an abortion or buy a soda out of their food stamp money (another personal bugabear, brought to you courtesy of Mayor Bloomberg) or whatever, any more than I should be able to tell a rich or middle-class person. But whatever. As I said, with the abortion provision, I do think the ends justified the means there, even if I wasn't totally comfortable with it.

Now the government is trying to work out just what insurances should have to cover. One of those areas, as I mentioned above, is reproductive health. Basically, the government wants to force all health insurance plans to cover health insurance – including plans paid for in part by employers who have traditionally opposed birth control, like the Roman Catholic Church. There are conscience clause exceptions, which basically let people whose jobs are suitably religious in nature (think pastors and priests) buy insurance plans that don't cover birth control. Sometimes the groups oppose birth control on principle, like the Catholics whose natural law ethics condemn any ejaculation that doesn't have the goal of procreation. Other times there's a concern that the some of the birth controls can act as abortifacients, opening up a back door to taxpayer-funded abortions. Still others, usually conservative Protestants, point to the connection between birth control and extramarital sex and don't want to subsidize promiscuity.

But whatever the reason, these groups don't want to limit the conscience clause to clergy and church employees. The conscience exception wouldn't apply to people whose work wasn't devoted to religious ends. Like social workers and nurses employed by Catholic charities, for instance. And plans for students at religious universities would have to cover birth control.

This is where it gets personal for me, because I am a graduate student on stipend at attend a Jesuit (Catholic) university, and I was very much surprised to discover that my health insurance (purchased through my school) doesn't cover birth control or really anything reproduction-related besides OB-GYN exams. I'm not a member of the Roman Catholic Church, nor do I think I accepted a "Catholic" ethic because I decided to study and teach here. Jesuits just happen to produce the best scholars in my corner of philosophy. As it happens, I don't need birth control because I'm not sexually active, and I actually think most premarital sex is immoral for various reason. But that's my decision, based on my moral choice. And for the majority of the culture that disagrees with me, that's there moral choice, too. To be perfectly honest, I really resent the idea that some group I never joined up with should decide what kind of health choices I'm able to access.

(To be clear: this "joined up" idea can be hard to nail down. If you were born into a church and your whole family belonged, staying on the church rosters could just be inertia at work. Or maybe you joined because you agreed with most of the beliefs but not this one. Or maybe you took a job at a Catholic hospital or teaching Spanish at an evangelical high school because it was the only or best opening in your area. None of these should take away your access to medical procedures. But this is doubly so for college students, given how little emphasis students put on the school's ideology when choosing to go there.)

This, right here, is why the whole idea of relying on charity for basic needs doesn't work. The Catholic Church (and the other groups taking similar stances) are saying it's an affront to their freedom of conscience if they have to pay for my birth control (if I decided I wanted it). I would maybe be okay with that (maybe) if not for the refrain I keep hearing in politics. We're told that government is inefficient, that it's wrong to make people give up their money to support people who didn't earn it. That Americans are the most generous nation and to just let people hold on to their money so they can donate it willingly. But many, many charities have religious ideologies. Those that don't tend to have their own ideologies, and many attach requirements to people using their money. That doesn't sit right with me.

Think about an analogy. Say someone proposes we slash the budget for Section 8 housing. [for Non-Americans: government $$$ paid to private landlords, to provide lower-income housing for the poor] This is in exchange for a taxcut, with the assumption people will turn around and donate that money to private charities working in their local area. Only those charities have their own ideology, as most do. Say a certain charity has a strong ideological position against smoking. (Perhaps it's Mormon-backed, whose church considers tobacco use a sin; perhaps the group's founder just lost a favorite uncle to emphysema and hates smoking.) I can't help thinking low-income people would be less free under this system than the current one.

I guess it all comes down to this for me: you can only use those rights you have the power to exercise. I'm all for personal responsibility and saying that if you have enough money to meet your needs if you were smart about it and you squander it, that you're responsible for. Maybe those people need to suffer, or maybe there's room for honest-to-goodness charity there. But if someone isn't making enough to have a basic standard of living, if they're trying to find a job and can't or if the jobs available pay too little, that's not what charity's for. They need public funds – yes, taken from my tax $$$ – and it's really not up to me how they spend it. That's justice.

Your thoughts?

Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.
fidesquaerens: (Default)
2011-10-06 02:53 pm

Divorce and the Living Death

Several weeks ago, Pat Robertson made some comments on his show the 700 club that rocked the Christian blogosphere. Several weeks later people are still writing about it. I'm hardly a regular watcher of the 700 Club(!) but if you read any news site or blog that discusses theology, religion and politics, or other related issues from a Protestant perspective it's hard to have missed it. Since I'm not only a Protestant but also a grad student studying philosophy of religion (meaning: what people think about God and why is actually very interesting to me), so perhaps it's not so surprising I heard the story third- or fourth-hand.

Read more... )

I'm curious, what do other people think? What would you say to someone who was against divorce but had a spouse who was in a coma or a vegetative state? Or in an extreme illness that pretty much obliterated the relationship? (I may be wrong about whether Alzheimer's is such a relationship, btw - I'm hardly an expert.)