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Post  MRyan on Fri Oct 12, 2012 11:30 pm

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11 October 2012 7:07 PM

Christian Politics in PostChristian America

American Christians like to think of their country as peculiarly religious. Some, invoking the old Puritan metaphor of the city on the hill, insist that the United States is no mere nation-state, but an exception in the history of nations. Our nation is a beacon shining the light of moral virtue and political liberty on a world darkened by atheism and immorality.

Many of these latter-day Puritans are good people and fine Christians, but they do display a disquieting tendency to turn Christian faith into a religious and political ideology that is not so much Christianity as Christianism. Christianists are not content merely to lead Christian lives, go to church, and practice charity. They must be forever making the world a better place. In the process, they are not always careful to distinguish the morality and theology of historic Christianity from the typically American cult of free enterprise and democratic capitalism. For them, Ronald Reagan and Paul Ryan, while they may not rank with Jesus and the Apostles, are at least on par with popes, patriarchs, and the pastors of megachurches.

Some Christianists must be disturbed by the recent poll numbers released by the Pew Research Center, showing a dramatic rise in religious indifference in the United States. One fifth of Americans now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, and the numbers rise to one third among people under 30. This poll, which includes the six per cent of Americans who claim to be atheist or agnostic, is an indication of a significant increase in religious indifference in just five years.

Numbers, of course, do not tell the entire story, since in recent decades it is the mainstream churches that are haemorrhaging members, while more passionate or traditional forms of Christianity are growing. Methodists and Episcopalians are down, but Pentecostalists and Latin-Mass Catholics are up.

For Christianists, the spectacle of America going the way of all flesh must be depressing, but for more traditional Christians - Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and serious Calvinist - it is merely a reminder that Christ's kingdom is not of this world. This reminder is particularly timely, given the Republicans' tendency to turn opportunistic wars into crusades and elections into ideological struggles between the angels of light and the angels of darkness.

The current standard-bearer of Republican Party Christianism, ironically, belongs to a religion that many traditional Christians do not recognize as Christian. In the past few days, Governor Romney has been accused of flip-flopping and even of tergiversation on the abortion question. There is some basis for the accusation. Romney's positions on abortion, if they have not quite been all over the map, have at least occupied a good deal of territory.

He has gone from the fairly moderate stance he took running for governor to a fairly hard-core pro-life position, from which he has recently shown signs of backing off.
While, not too long ago, Romney had vowed to defund Planned Parenthood, he now says, in an interview with the Des Moines Register, 'There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda'. In 1994, Senator Ted Kennedy described his then opponent's position as 'multiple-choice'.

Does Romney's position on abortion really matter? I could answer yes, no, or maybe, depending on what aspect of the question we are looking at. As a Christian, I have little use for politicians who advocate infanticide. However, as a voter who hopes for a little fiscal sanity and knows that neither party will ever undo Roe v. Wade, I could hardly care less. Worrying about a politician's position on life questions is like worrying about what they will do to improve the air quality on Mars.

The life question is not just a distraction: It is a smokescreen. Every four years, Republican candidates pander to pro-life American Christians, but they never manage to find the time to do anything about limiting, much less banning abortion. George Bush pretended to do things to restrict the use of foetal stem cells, but on the practical level he did nothing.

The one reason to care about Romney's never-ending change of position is that it raises questions about his character. Does he actually believe anything? Of course he doesn't, not, at least, to the point that his beliefs would affect his actions. He is, after all, a politician. I cannot think of a worse name to call a man.

But the Christianists have already forgiven the governor. Paul Ryan claims he has been misunderstood. Rick Perry and other self-described Christian conservatives deflect the problem by pointing to the Supreme Court. Vote for Romney and he'll put another sound Christian conservative on the Court. Someone like John Roberts, perhaps. Ralph Reed, the official voice of GOP Christianists dismisses what some regard as a matter of life and death as 'just an issue of semantics'.

My advice to Christian voters is to set religious questions aside weigh the issues and their interests. Neither candidate can make much of a claim to being a Christian, and anyone serious about his faith would not be in national politics. However you decide vote, be sure to pay no attention to the professional cynics of the so-called religious so-called right who reduce every serious question to 'an issue of semantics'.


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Post  MRyan on Fri Oct 12, 2012 11:36 pm

Christian Politics in PostChristian America Weblogo

Clueless Catholic

by Thomas Fleming • February 20, 2009

A regular correspondent on our website sent me this priceless paragraph (from NRO) from that noted philosopher George Weigel, commenting on the Pope's meeting with Nancy Pelosi, with the question: What does this mean?

He told Pelosi, politely but unmistakably, that her relentlessly pro-abortion politics put her in serious difficulties as a Catholic, which was his obligation as a pastor. He also underscored — for Pelosi, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Barbara Mikulski, Rose DeLauro, Kathleen Sebelius, and everyone else — that the Church’s opposition to the taking of innocent human life, at any stage of the human journey, is not some weird Catholic hocus-pocus; it’s a first principle of justice than can be known by reason. It is a “requirement of the natural moral law” — that is, the moral truths we can know by thinking about what is right and what is wrong — to defend the inviolability of innocent human life. You don’t have to believe in papal primacy to know that; you don’t have do believe in seven sacraments, or the episcopal structure of the Church, or the divinity of Christ, to know that. You don’t even have to believe in God to know that. You only have to be a morally serious human being, willing to work through a moral argument — which, of course, means being the kind of person who understands that moral truth cannot be reduced to questions of feminist political correctness or partisan political advantage.

The answer is: It means very little. Mr. Weigel is one of many victims of modern Catholic education and the Neo-Thomist ideology that has more to do with Hegelian rationalism than with the traditional teachings of the Church. Obviously, the pre-Christian world included large numbers of morally serious people who believed in god or gods but did not entirely condemn either abortion or infanticide. The argument, then, that all seriously moral people would oppose abortion cannot be true. It is a little like saying anyone remotely interested in science would agree with Newton or Einstein. Obviously, something happened to change the discourse: the Incarnation. A self-described Catholic is supposed to know these things.

Now, there is an element of truth in the argument, which is that just as we do not wish to be killed unjustly, we should not kill unjustly. But what if abortion is not unjust? What if we regard it as, in some cases, a necessity or at least a preferable option? After all, just because we do not wish to be executed does not mean that we necessarily oppose the death penalty. We might even say that were we to commit a cold-blooded murder, we should deserve killing. Thus, if we think life is not worth living without an IQ above 75 or without a reasonably healthy body or without loving parents, we might say that abortion in such cases is reasonable and just and might even, honestly or not, say that we would apply the same criteria to ourselves.

It is also true that most of the arguments used to defend abortion are irrational arguments from analogy, implying that an unborn child is an alien space monster implanted in the womb or merely the seed from which a tree might grow. Like virtually everything said by the Left, the arguments are childish and irrational. But the fact remains that natural reason did not teach the Greeks and Romans that it is wrong to kill an unborn or newborn child, though some thought abortion shameful.

There was no prohibition on abortion in Roman law, except where the father was not consulted. In that case, she was guilty of depriving him and his ancestors of an heir. This is, at least, a more wholesome approach than our current abortion law, though it rests not on reason but on family loyalty.

From the beginning Christian women did not kill their babies. This is one of the things we can learn from the early Apostolic Fathers. Christians did not practice either infanticide or sodomy. For both prohibitions, there is ample justification in natural law, as that phrase was understood by Aristotle, Cicero, and St. Thomas. We were not made sexual beings to violate each others' anuses or to enjoy ourselves while disposing of the fruits of our coition. Mothers, in this tradition, do not have a universal obligation to prevent abortion but a specific obligation not just not to kill their children but to nurture and cherish them. This is not like some corollary deduced from a basic logic axiom: It is a specific duty that arises both from the nature that God created and from God's love for us.

The real question is not whether abortion is consistent with reason but rather,whether it is right to lie in a good cause. That is, at best, what Weigel has done. Many pro-life arguments I have studied come down to well-intentioned lying, by which I understand not only a conscious and deliberate lie but the reckless disregard for truth engaged in by pseudo-intellectuals who pretend to learning and authority they do not possess.

The most basic error is to cover Christian truth with the tinsel trappings of Enlightenment universalism that makes everyone owe everyone else the same duties. Thus, we hear sweeping claims, expressed in a Kantian idiom, that it is everyone's duty to prevent a nonChristian female from killing her child, whether she lives in China or Peru. Their arguments frequently rely on misused or misunderstood Scriptural citations, which, if refuted, might unsettle the convictions of a poor Fundamentalist. Among the worst are the utilitarian arguments that tell us we may be losing countless Beethovens and Shakespeares, to say nothing of millions of taxpayers who will pay my Social Security. But what if if turns out that in economic terms, abortion is a net gain, in preventing the birth of millions of welfare-dependent blacks and Mexicans? Would that make abortion a civic duty? Live by bad arguments, die by bad arguments. The cumulative effect of much of the professional pro-life ideology is to distort and deflect the question, away from the really important thing, which is how to convert nonbelievers, who will then be far less likely to kill their babies, toward comparatively trivial legislative policies and judicial agendas.

If everyone is rational enough to understand that abortion is wrong, why is it that so few defenders of the unborn are capable either of entering into a rational discourse or studying history?

Catholics who call themselves Neoconservatives are truly "the kind of person" who reduce truth to questions of "political correctness and partisan political advantage." They have nothing to offer anyone except conservatives and Christians who wish to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. If the Holy Father really wishes to clean up the Augean stables of the American Church--as I sincerely believe he does--he might, after excommunicating Pelosi and Biden, move onto the people who claim to speak for him in the USA but have censored and misrepresented his predecessor and continue to defend the immoral war he has explicitly condemned. If Mr. Weigel really believes that anyone can understand the Natural Law, why is he incapable of understanding either Just War theory or his duty of obedience to the Holy Father?


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Post  MRyan on Fri Oct 12, 2012 11:45 pm

Christian Politics in PostChristian America Weblogo

Credo for Conservatives IV: Abortion

by Thomas Fleming • May 31, 2010

Questions of life and death—abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization, stem cell research, euthanasia, and suicide—form a fissure in the American political geography, dividing (typically) left from right, but also moral from immoral, and—all too often—sane from insane.

In this discussion there will have to a few rules. Since the goal is to discover principles of consensus on which conclusions can be based, we cannot, once a level of consensus has been reached, permit the conversation to be sidetracked or highjacked by commentators who wish to back and reargue more basic points.

People who find themselves left out of a consensus have the choice of either watching from the sidelines or accepting the consensus for the sake of argument.

Because of the seriousness of the matter, a civility and decency of language will be required. This eliminates not only name-calling but also the kind of irreverent language that pretends to reduce very serious human concerns to triviality and degrade the human condition to a mere object of study for scientists.

In this discussion, we shall be looking at the question from three points of view: the natural, the moral, and the legal. Although these three categories are inter-related, we can begin at least by keeping them separate. In each of them, too, we shall also have to distinguish between Christian and non-Christian perspectives and occasionally, where pre-Christian and Christian attitudes converge with each other but diverge from modern thought, we shall be obliged to notice in what ways post-Christian thought is distinctive.

Christians have always regarded abortion as morally wrong, an action deserving of punishment. It is thus in that realm of actions we ordinarily describe as immoral, sinful, or criminal. Let us for shorthand sum this view up as: Abortion is evil. In any consideration of evil actions, we have to know what harm the action does, and to understand that, we have to find out what good thing or property or action is being damaged or destroyed. For example, if we say that stealing is wrong, we would have to know what is meant by property and what property is good for. We might even have to make some distinctions, for example, between picking up beer cans on state-owned property as opposed to lifting silverware from a private home. In some cases, stealing is more morally complicated than the mere theft of property. I might steal out of envy instead of mere greed, or I might seriously and correctly think that if I do not steal my children will starve. Or I might steal evidence that could be used to convict or acquit someone accused of a felony.

In the case of abortion, the evil is thought to lie in the taking of a human life, whether completely actual or only potential, without any of the usual moral justifications, such as acts of self-defense, executions, or homicides committed during wars. Then our first area to investigate is this life that is at stake.

Abortion from the Natural Perspective

The heart of the matter is sex. Reptiles, birds, and mammals (to name just three classes of animals reproduce sexually, that is, the genetic materials of the male and female combine to form a new and usually unique genetic fusion that develops into an organism hereinafter known as the child. The last time I looked at the question, biologists still adhered to the view that the genetic diversity encouraged by sexual reproduction is a good thing. So then, the natural purpose of sex is reproduction but also reproduction of a type that is not mere replication but results in a genetic diversity that can preserve valuable traits that might some day be called upon, for example, endurance or higher intelligence.

Although in nature we cannot say that something is morally wrong or right, we can and ought to view behavior as conducive or not conducive to the survival of individuals, their offspring, their genetic lineage, and the species. If chimpanzees (whose numbers are already dwindling) learned to have sex without producing children, they would quickly die out. Now, chimpanzees will not make this discovery, first because they are too stupid and secondly because the female's cycle is quite different from the human. Chimps are most interested in sex precisely when the female is in oestrus, that is, is ready to breed.

Humans are different and we can have sex most of the time. Whatever the ultimate natural or divine purpose of mankind's greater sexuality, it does have the effect of binding male and female more tightly together in a longer-lasting relationship. This is quite important to a species whose hallmark is a prolonged period of development.

Humans take considerably more years to reach sexual maturity than our closest cousins and males take still longer to reach the point at which they cane take their place in the tribe. Ironically, in modern societies males take forever to become men, and in the case of my own generation they never seem to reach maturity.

The purpose of sex in primates, then, is to ensure the propagation of the parents' genes; children are thus, as I have frequently said, a form of natural immortality.
There are several actions not conducive to reproductive success in human primates. Let me just list a few: marital infidelity in women that limits a man's interest in children that may or may not be his; divorce that deprives children of one parent's attention and may expose the child to predatory humans to which he is not related; incest of closely related individuals (parents and children, siblings) that defeats one of the purposes sex (diversity) and may disrupt the stability of the home; contraception, or at least systematically practiced contraception, which limits the number of offspring (though some limitation on family size may increase the chances for success of the children who are born), and--most fundamentally--abortion and infanticide that eliminate the purpose of sex.

From the natural perspective, a woman who has a series of abortions is like the teenage anorexic girl who is forever gorging herself on fastfood and then sticking her finger down her throat. In the end, the girl dies from her non-nuutritive eating habits, and in the end the aborting mother dies--that is, she eliminates her genes from the gene pool--from her non-reproductive sex. Obviously, some anorexic girls eat enough to survive and some aborting women have a child or two, but the general effects of their actions goes in the same direction. (I am not, obviously, talking about an obese girl who needs to lose weight in order to survive or the very rare case of a woman who will not survive unless her baby is surgically removed.)

I am happy to discuss this further, but perhaps this is enough to make a consensus on the point that in natural terms abortion in most cases is counter-productive because it is counter-reproductive and reduces the fitness of people or groups who routinely permit abortion.

But there is another natural aspect to the question, one that leads into the moral aspect, and that is a mother's natural affection for her child. Whatever the reason(s)--the way their brains are wired, the hormonal bath in which a pregnant woman or new mother's brain is washed, an inborn and/or acquired moral sense--most women love their child either from the moment he is born or shortly afterwards. Many conceive this love fairly early on in the pregnancy. This affection is vital to the child, who will depend exclusively on his mother for the first several yeas and until adulthood will still rely on her for nurture, affection, and support.

Abortion, in hardening (at least in some cases) a woman against her offspring is not conducive to effective mothering, but then the same can be said of jobs and feminist ideology.

Abortion from the Pre-Christian Moral Perspective

Human morality is not so much in conflict with human nature as it is the fulfillment of our nature. In nature, the killer is often killed and the thief often loses more than he stole. Our moral prohibitions on murder and theft universalize the principles and the penalties. So, if it maternal affection and parental care are conducive to fitness, they are also the basis of moral imperatives to care for our children. Now, there are societies in which parents routinely kill children, born or unborn, and are generally indifferent to their welfare. Colin Turnbull, in The Mountain People, describes a tribe so near to extinction that the simply do not care what happens. (Or, is that one of the reasons they are so near to extinction?)

But prisons, robber bands, and dying races are not useful as examples. For us, our moral traditions are inherited from Greeks, Romans, the Old and New Testaments, and the barbarians who invaded and overthrew the empire. While it would be foolish to attempt to frame universal statements about moral attitudes toward children, I can say, after studying just this question for 25 years (and more) that pre-modern parents generally loved their children and looked upon infanticide as quite wrong.
Greeks and Romans viewed abortion as particularly dirty.

Ah but, someone will say, the ancients exposed unwanted children. Some did. We have little idea of numbers. Some attempt has been made to indicate that skewed sex ratios, where we have such information, indicate high rates of female infanticide, but, as has been pointed out repeatedly, girls were undercounted even within upperclass families. There were two kinds of exposures. Non-viable or seriously deformed babies were left to die, as indeed many would die even with the best care.

From a pre-Christian perspective, a seriously deformed baby (I am not talking about club foot) if it survived would be a drain on family resources that would injure the other children. The other case is that of a family under economic stress. In this case, unless the whole community was undergoing a prolonged famine, the child was picked up almost immediately either by a childless family or someone who wanted to rear a slave.

Abortions were quite dangerous, and it was certainly safer to bear than abort. Nonetheless, the ancients certainly knew how to procure abortions. The Hippocratic Oath explicitly forbids the administration of the pessary, a sort of abortifacient pebble, though Hippocrates and some other physicians recommended exercises to induce miscarriage. I don't know whether such exercises actually worked, and scholars have puzzled over the apparent discrepancy. One thing we might say is that an exercise is not the same as an insertion or a surgical intervention. Some ancient discussions of abortion techniques are aimed exclusively at cases where the mother's life is threatened--far more common in the days before modern medicine--or the baby had actually died.

There is little or no evidence of abortion as something socially acceptable by normal people. Juvenal, in a famous passage, talks about the degeneracy of Roman women in his day and accuses them of getting abortions. Now, Juvenal as a satirist goes over the top on every subject, but his testimony is valuable, because he reveals clearly that normal people viewed abortions--but not exposure--as shameful.

Christian writers are not always to be relied upon as witnesses because they quite naturally liked to paint the pagans in the blackest colors. Non-scholars will say that we just don't know enough about the ancient world. In fact, we know more than many think. We have important witnesses in comedy to everyday attitudes; we have gossipy historians like Herodotus; and, best of all, we have the letters of Cicero on everything under the sun, the elder Pliny's encyclopediac Natural History, and his nephew's letters, and what we do not find is moral approbation of infanticide or abortion.

Certain classes of women would have had incentives, particularly prostitutes and concubines who would lose business or status by carrying a baby to term. These women also had no husbands to complain, if they were robbed of offspring. Abortions were not illegal because ancient law rarely intruded itself into private and domestic life; there was little regulation of marriage and divorce, except where property and citizenship were involved, and even the prosecution of homicide in classical Athens was treated as a kind of civil action that had to be brought by the murder victim's next of kin. Modern "scholars" who equate lack of legislation with moral indifference are either not doing their homework or lying. A good case in point is a Roman law on abortion. A couple could decide on an abortion without being subject to criminal charges, but a wife who had an abortion without her husband's permission might be put to death. We'll come back to this point.

I am not going to produce a survey of ancient or Medieval texts on infanticide and/or abortion, but I shall confine myself to one point. Parents--mothers especially--are supposed to love their own children. To kill what we are supposed to love is to overturn the moral order. If we set aside the extreme cases--to save a mother's life, to eliminate an unfit child that is a threat to the survival of his siblings--then we can join the ancients (apart from rich degenerates) in viewing child-rearing as a blessing and a duty and in ascribing at least as much authority over infanticide to the father as to the mother. What we shall see that just as morality completes our nature, so Christianity completes our morality.

Abortion from the Christian Moral Perspective

There is really no good Scriptural text on abortion, and the common pro-life bumper sticker "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you" assumes a knowledge of embryology on Jeremiah's part (and an intention) that is quite out of the question. The various fundamentalist/evangelical attempts to find a secure Scriptural basis for outlawing abortion are as futile as most of their theology. Exodus 21, the most frequently cited text, merely states the penalty for causing the death of the fetus, though it is quite true that rabbinical commentators used this to support their condemnation of abortion.

Despite rabbinical prohibitions, there is no reason to believe that Jews did not behave more or less like other Mediterranean peoples. This has no bearing on the undoubted fact that Christians were early on distinguished for their rejection of infanticide and abortion.

There is no need for Scriptural authority in this case. Man is made in the image of the God who sent his Son in human form to take upon Himself the sins of the world, to die for us, and in rising from the dead to give us the promise of life everlasting.

The Christian vision, then, could give no support to infanticide or abortion, except in the difficult case where a mother's life is at stake. (I do not intend to take any position on this since it is of almost no significance today. We shall stick to the main road.)

Like other ancient texts, the Old Testament says nothing nothing about the rights of children and very little about parental duties: What matters most is the child's duty to the parent and not the reverse. Nonetheless, the OT texts, like the literatures of the Greeks and Romans, gives a very positive portrayal, generally, of parents. There is no need, I think, to speak of Abraham and Isaac, or Jacob and Joseph, when we have the portrait of Mary and Joseph's very tender regard for Jesus. Mary's outburst, on finding her son teaching in the temple, is almost amusing, it is so like what any normal mother would say when realizing that her son is safe--and not through any effort of his own! I can hear my own mother's "Where have you been? Do you realize your father and and I have been waiting up all night long...?"

In the Christian tradition, then, there is no talk of a child's universal human life to be guaranteed by a government or legal system, only the parents' duty to love and care for their children. This is not a universal or convertible obligation: I have to take care of my children but not your children much less everybody's children. Of course, a Christian society will want to enforce up to a point Christian moral law and might even institutionalize some forms of charity, but in an anti-Christian society it is incumbent upon us to return to a more traditional Christian way of thinking about matters such as abortion, divorce, and charity, lest we find ourselves sacrificing the moral authority of family's to the power of an anti-Christian state that makes war upon the family.


Thomas Fleming ~ June 1, 2010 • 7:40 AM

Nature and her laws are an imperfect representation of the divine order. Some thieves and murderers get off scot free to profit from their crimes. To serious men, such as the authors of the Odyssey, Job, etc, this poses a serious challenge to the idea of a divinely sanctioned moral order. The success of some evil-doers gives rise to what sometimes may seem like silly speculations about reincarnation, inherited curses, and an elaborate mythology of Purgatory, but all are serious and even brilliant attempts to grapple with reality. Homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, in societies where they are viewed as normal, doom the practitioners, entire classes, and even nations to extinction. It is now known that the ancients did in fact have effective contraception, which probably explains how upper class lineages died out.

Let us distinguish between man's sinful propensities in general and the special cases of sick and degenerate societies in which perversion and evil are institutionalized, namely our own. Homosexual behavior was common among the Greeks, probably from the 6th century BC, but it was regarded either as a developmental stage or as somewhat eccentric pleasure. Swishy or exclusively gay men, however, were despised.

A postscript on infanticide in the ancient world. I gave the brief sketch I did in order to eliminate the canard that so many conservative Christians have accepted.

Exposure is not infanticide except in cases of non-viable or freakishly deformed infants. A couple that had a fairly normal baby and the means to support it expected to rear and was expected to rear the child. Not being Christians, they did not regard all human life as a precious gift, but not being post-Christian beasts they accepted the ancient norm that parents loved and cared for their children. I am not going to go text by text to show that Mr. VanO has entirely misstated the case, because that would take us away from the main argument I am making. As for the numbers involved, we simply do not have them except in a few accidental local cases which may or may not be normal and whose numbers may or may not have been correctly interpreted.

Thomas Fleming ~ June 1, 2010 • 8:30 AM

Infanticide was not normally the intent or the result of exposure except in the case of non-viable or badly deformed infants. As I explained in the original piece, exposed infants were expected to be picked up almost immediately. That is why there were customary spots to leave the babies. An unwed mother today who drops her baby off at a fire station or hospital is presumably not aiming at the death of her child.

M Forss ~ June 1, 2010 • 2:53 PM

What about sacrificing infants to Moloch? Is it just anti-Carthaginian propaganda (that Chesterton, for instance, believed) that Phoenicians accepted human sacrifices, especially of infants? If infanticide was a social norm then the Carthaginian society must have been as corrupt as ours.

Thomas Fleming ~ June 1, 2010 • 3:54 PM

While Chesterton knew next to nothing about the Carthaginians/Phoenicians, he was right about this. I was in Sicily once and a brilliant guide I had hired for our group tried to defend the Carthaginians from this charge. At Motya, she was discoursing on the location of the altar, when I asked her why the graveyard next to the sacrificial altar contained nothing but the skeletons of children. It was an uneasy moment. In their defense--but also to their shame--it can be said that in Carthage at least the sacrifice was done in times of emergency to propitiate their demonic gods, not simply as a means of eliminating unwanted children. It was also expected more of the nobility than of the commoners. Hannibal's wife writes him to warm him about an upcoming demand for one of their children. He reassured her by promising many pows who could be substituted. Its grisly but it does show that even Carthaginians loved their children. Chesterton was profoundly right in seeing the Roman triumph as a means of cleansing the ancient world in preparation for the Incarnation.

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Post  MRyan on Fri Oct 12, 2012 11:51 pm

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Conservative Credo: Abortion Rights

by Thomas Fleming • June 26, 2010


In a rationalist system of ethics, every basic principle must be stated in universal terms in which "I" am denied a privileged perspective. I may not, for example, make rules that apply to everyone but me--only the Congress of the United States is free to do that. If I advocate an unrestricted right to abortion, then, it must include my mother's right to have aborted me for whatever reason she chose. This is a variant on the familiar right-to-life argument which goes, "Aren't you glad your mother did not believe in abortion," with this essential difference. The "aren't you glad" ploy assumes that my existence is self-evidently desirable, whereas an insistence upon a universal principle assumes nothing. Of course, abortion advocates of bad faith or limited imagination might readily assent and proclaim their willingness to die for their mother's right, but it is hard to find anyone willing to die even for a close relative, as Admetus found out to his cost. In Euripides' play Alcestis, King Admetus is told he must die, unless he can find someone willing to take his place. Everyone including his parents refuses, but when his wife Alcestis accepted death on his behalf, he was desolate.

Under normal circumstances no healthy-minded animal will commit suicide, and for happy and healthy human beings, even the contemplation of their mortality is disturbing. So it is fair to begin with the assumption that a normal person would not choose non-existence and, thus, would not grant his own mother a retroactive right to an abortion. The only counter-argument would be that "I" would not really have existed when my mother made her fatal decision. To this one must answer, "Yes, but you do exist now, and given the choice, which would you deny--your own existence or your mother's right to choose?

Imagine the situation as a kind of thought experiment with two buttons, the first labeled "unrestricted right", the second "restricted." If you push "unrestricted," then your mother would have been free to terminate you for any reason no matter how whimsical, but if you push "restricted," it means your mother would have been limited in her choice, and one can then decide under what circumstances it would be better never to have existed.

If you choose yes--only to wink out of existence--then you have denied your own being, your own particular point of view that has evolved from the moment of conception up till now. You have not only rejected one of the few universal human attributes--the desire for self-preservation, but you have in principle stripped yourself of legitimate personhood: Can we really argue with a person who has never really existed? This argument is, in a way, an analogue of Anselm's proof of God's existence--that God must exist because our mind is constructed in such a way as to conceive of him. If our conception of our self involves us in self-annihilation, then we are the opposite of all that God is; we are nescient, impotent, and incompetent--in a word, nothing.


The debate over abortion, both in the moral and in the political dimensions, is cast in the form of a competition between rights: the rights of women versus the rights of unborn children. Judith Jarvis Thomson attempts to disentangle a woman's right not to bear a child from an intention to kill the child. Among the bizarre analogies she chooses is the case of a person whom music-lovers have kidnapped and attached to a dying violinist with failing kidneys. Surely, such a person, she argues, has the right to detach himself but not to slit the violinist's throat. (64)

There are so many elementary mistakes in Thomson's argument, it is tempting to refute them one by one. The kidnap victim really only corresponds to the victim of rape--as Thomson knows--and many opponents of abortion do make exception for such circumstances. Beyond that, the maternal relationship--even when involuntary or accidental--entails a particular, not a general obligation. It is not contractual in nature, and it is not subject to the same abstract rules that might be applied to all mankind. If a hungry man appeared at the door, a nursing mother would not be obliged to suckle him with her own milk, if that were the only food available.

But the most corrupting aspect of Thomson's argument is the bad-faith attempt to distinguish between detaching the fetus--which may accidentally lead to its death--and killing it. In the first place, the real life situation is that a nonviable fetus, if aborted by any technique, will die; in the second, some abortifacient procedures do, in fact, kill the fetus before removing it from the womb. If an infant could survive removal, according to Thomson's argument, then both mother and physicians should be obliged to keep it alive at any cost--which defeats the real purpose of abortion. Although Thomson seems to assume that it is the nine months' inconvenience that induces women to abort a child, the pregnancy is only a small down payment on a lifetime commitment of time, energy, and economic resources.

It is hard, in fact, to maintain a clear distinction between intentional killing and killing that is the accidental or secondary effect of another action. Philippa Foot argued that the more important distinction was between the negative duty to do no murder and a positive duty to assist or save persons in need. When there is a conflict between two negative duties--not killing one or not killing five people--one has to chose the lesser evil, but if the conflict is between the negative duty not to kill and the positive duty to help others, then the negative duty takes precedence. We are not justified in murdering an innocent man in order to use his body parts to save the lives of several other innocent persons. [Cf. St. Thomas, "De Homicidio," Sum Th. II ii 64] Applied to abortion, the negative duty not to kill outweighs all positive considerations of the mother's wealth, health, and convenience. In cases where one life must be sacrificed in order to preserve the other, while we may still regard the abortion is evil, it is possible to regard it as the lesser evil, if we believe that the actual existence of the other children is at stake.


The dialectic of rights cannot be used unequivocally to support an unrestricted right to abortion or an unequivocal right to be born, but the style of argument encourages both sides to view themselves as society's victims who need legal and political protection. In the long run, the appeal to rights has had the principal effect of empowering the national judicial system to make decisions that were once made privately and locally. In the United States, this is partly due to the role assumed (recently) by the Supreme Court that has set itself up as arbiter of national morality, a position to which it is not entitled by the Constitution, but in assuming broad interpretive powers in all questions of rights, the Court is only approximating the role of central governments in Europe, where the idea of rights has been a major instrument in constructing the vast apparatus of the modern state.

In the United States before the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, jurisdiction was left up to the individual states, as it still is for ordinary cases of murder, arson, rape--all of which were capital crimes. In their decisions, however, the justices decided that abortion was both a technical matter that required the assistance of trained professionals (physicians willing to use their life-saving skills in the service of death) and the newly-discovered right to privacy of a newly-discovered oppressed minority (pregnant women).

If the Court had wished only to provide a fall-back method of birth control--if death were the only object--the justices could have skirted the dangerous issue of rights and restored something like the Roman patria potestas, which gave fathers a theoretical power of life and death over their dependents. Since women are equal under the law, the court need only have recognized that such painful decisions could best be made within families. Parents would obviously have to make the decision for underage daughters who skipped the contraception chapter in their high-school sex manuals.

There is a sizable number of decent and moral people who could have lived with such a decision, although many would still complain against the Court's assumption that it had jurisdiction. But with a few strokes of the pen, the justices virtually eliminated the family as an organic part of society by pitting fathers against mothers, and parents against children--unborn as well as born. The Court was not content to rest on its laurels, but rapidly proceeded to protect the rights of teen-age unwed mothers. In Planned Parenthood v. Danforth (1976) and Bellotti v.Baird (1979), the majority struck down state laws requiring parental consent for minors getting an abortion. Families were not the only victims. States and local communities lost their ability to regulate the health and welfare of their people. They cannot even insist that the procedure be performed in regular hospitals, much less impose any restrictions that might stigmatize abortion as immoral or express a preference for life.

Much of the furor over abortion is attributable to the Supreme Court's hybris in declaring the law. It is as if they had decided to put Ronald Dworkin's theory of law to a test. In Dworkin's view, the courts should function as philosopher kings that decide all questions of social and political morality. As Brian Barry observed in the Times Literary Supplement, abortion laws have been legislated democratically in Europe with comparatively little public excitement, but in America, where the courts have legislated, abortion continues to be a highly divisive political issue. A national ban would have a similar effect.

What pro-lifers ought to realize is that many countries with liberal abortion laws actually include a right-to-life provision in their constitutions, as well as a general presumption in favor of life. West Germany, for example, permits abortion if pregnancy threatens the mother's physical or mental health, if the baby is likely to suffer from birth defects, or (through the twelfth week) if the pregnancy works a serious hardship, but the West German constitution begins with the ringing declaration that "Everyone shall have the right to life and to inviolability of his person."

Even if the US managed to pass such an amendment, there is nothing to prevent the Supreme Court from interpreting it in the same spirit that animates its pronouncements on the rest of the Constitution. At best, such a tactic would proceed along the lines already laid out in Sweden and France, where the legal pressures in favor of life include very generous state assistance to mothers who decide to go ahead and have their children. With assistance comes regulation, and with regulation comes the entire bureaucratic panoply of state socialism.


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Post  MRyan on Fri Oct 12, 2012 11:55 pm

Christian Politics in PostChristian America Weblogo

Conservative Credo: Abortion, Conclusion

by Thomas Fleming • July 15, 2010

If the state is to protect life at any cost, doesn't this imply a financial obligation to preserve the life of any child, no matter how deformed or hopeless, no matter what it takes? That means a considerable outlay of tax money, and in parallel cases, when the state assumes the burden, it also lays down the law. The routine justification for anti-smoking laws and seatbelt regulations is the cost imposed on the public. It does not take too much imagination to foresee the time when couples will have to submit to genetic screening if they wish to receive a permit to conceive. Couples who defied the law would be compelled to abort the illegal (and therefore rightless) child.

Because we are not yet entirely crazy, this stark scenario might not be played out to the last act, but the underlying logic is inescapable. Whenever the state discovers or redefines a right, the implementation of that right is subject to state control. Government, and not families, would have to decide cases of conflicting rights. Every day the courts intrude farther and farther into domestic life. In 1990 , a judge decided that even though child custody was granted to a divorced mother, she could not rear the child as a Catholic. When the mother persisted in taking the child to Mass, she was even given a jail sentence. The sentence was suspended, but there was no doubt that she would go to jail if she attempted to exercise her freedom of religion.

In the years since the Court decided to intrude itself into the most difficult and private decisions a family can make, it has by its subsequent decisions added to the ethical and political confusion surrounding issues of life and death. Upholding parental consent for abortion in Minnesota and Ohio, while at the same time upholding Missouri's refusal to allow a young woman to die might seem to reflect a consistent states rights outlook, but it has been many years since the Supreme Court has been a supporter of states rights except in cases where a decision strengthens the hand either of the Court itself or of government in general.

The debate over abortion and euthanasia has been cast in the predictable form of conflicting rights: the right to die v. the right to life in Missouri, where the parents of Nancy Cruzan--lying hopelessly in a coma--decided to put an end to the medical profession's arrogation of the power of life and death; in the Minnesota and Ohio parental consent cases, a woman's right to an abortion v. the parents' right v. the rights of the unborn. However, neither ruling took much account of the family per se as a basic social institution. For the Court, it is individuals that matter, and when a person is incapable of making rational decisions (because of age or condition), responsibility may be delegated to family members or friends. The contested point in Missouri was not over who had the power--state or family--to make the decision to cut off life supports, but over how explicitly Miss Cruzan had stated her wishes. In the parental consent decisions a great deal of time was wasted--as Justice Scalia pointed out--in discussing, whether it was possible or preferable, where a pregnant minor's parents were divorced, to require two-parent as opposed to one-parent notification.

But while the family is a legal institution, it cannot be made or unmade by law. That responsibility lies in the hands of nature, which compells us to mate and rear children, and of God, who has given us clear instructions in Scripture and in the teachings of the Church. A friend, no matter how dear, is not the same thing as a parent, and while it might be useful to permit us in some cases to delegate a life and death decision to some trusted friend, the presumptive human authority must always reside in the family, the ultimate basis both for human society and for government.

What is at stake in these cases is really family autonomy. Who better than family can decide on a question like abortion or the removal of life support? Judges? Social workers? Policemen? In fact, neither the Minnesota nor Ohio laws go far enough: neither actually gave families an absolute veto power over abortions; they only required parental notification, and even then, it was possible to get around this minimal requirement, if a girl could show some plausible reason why her parents should not be informed.

The main question facing the Court was not the sanctity of life or individual rights but the liberty of the family to make its own decisions without interference. A similar point lies at the heart of the cases of parents who, out of religious scruples, refuse to seek professional medical attention for their sick children. No one would want to countenance child neglect, but no one in his right mind would want to turn over life-and-death decisions to the American Medical Association. What are the odds, today, of surving to 70 for people who don't go to doctors as opposed to people who do? In individual cases, of course, physicians save countless lives, but if one can believe the physicians themselves, a large proportion of life-threatening operations performed are absolutely unnecessary. We do know that when doctors and hospitals go on strike, the death rate falls.

Still, what if it could be established that the child mortality rate is much higher among religious groups that eschew medical treatment? Then we might attack the problem directly by discouraging the spread of religions that sacrifice children. The Romans outlawed the Druids, because they practiced human sacrifice, and it is time for the United States to do something about Santeria. If--and I do say if--a plausible case can be made to include Christian Science or the Jehovah's Witnesses, then it is better to outlaw a religious sect than to allow the state to intrude further into the family and to seize control over the power of life and death.

To conclude, it seems to me completely obvious that whatever tack is taken by the anti-abortion movement in the future, it has, for the most part, done far more harm than good in teaching Christian Americans not only to look to the government for salvation but, even worse, to worry more about what bad mothers pagan women are than about what good mothers they ought to be.


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Post  MRyan on Sat Oct 13, 2012 10:30 am

MRyan wrote:
Conservative Credo: Abortion Rights

by Thomas Fleming • June 26, 2010


"... As Brian Barry observed in the Times Literary Supplement, abortion laws have been legislated democratically in Europe with comparatively little public excitement, but in America, where the courts have legislated, abortion continues to be a highly divisive political issue. A national ban would have a similar effect.

What pro-lifers ought to realize is that many countries with liberal abortion laws actually include a right-to-life provision in their constitutions, as well as a general presumption in favor of life. West Germany, for example, permits abortion if pregnancy threatens the mother's physical or mental health, if the baby is likely to suffer from birth defects, or (through the twelfth week) if the pregnancy works a serious hardship, but the West German constitution begins with the ringing declaration that "Everyone shall have the right to life and to inviolability of his person."

Even if the US managed to pass such an amendment, there is nothing to prevent the Supreme Court from interpreting it in the same spirit that animates its pronouncements on the rest of the Constitution."
Indeed, and I was ready to take a more stringent exception to the significance of a "ringing declaration" in the German Constitution that says "Everyone shall have the right to life and to inviolability of his person", when a provision already exists that "permits abortion if pregnancy threatens the mother's physical or mental health". After all, it is already a matter of judicial precedence in the U.S. that:

in Doe v. Bolton, a companion case issued the same day as Roe, the court provided further guidance on what preserving the "health of the mother" entailed. "Medical judgment may be exercised in light of all factors--physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age--relevant to the well being of the patient," the court wrote. "All these factors may relate to health."
However, Germany appears to have given some bite to their pro-life provision; a bite that individual states in the U.S. have had only varying (and mostly dismal) levels of success in nullifying the overarching reach of the Supreme Court:

Christian Medical Comment

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Germany has independent abortion counseling and an abortion rate less than half of Britain’s

Christian Politics in PostChristian America Germany

It was refreshing to see Liam Fox, Defence Secretary, saying last night that he would support any measure that lowered the British abortion rate.

He and others like him would be well advised to look at the German system.

Germany has an abortion rate of 8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 per year. By contrast Britain’s rate is more than double this at 17.

European countries with laws requiring the offer of counseling or a cooling off period before abortion have abortion rates on average that are a third lower than those, like the UK, which don’t.

In German counselling is designed specifically to protect the unborn life, so the counsellor is required to inform the woman that the unborn have a right to life, and to try and convince her to continue with the pregnancy. The counsellor cannot however force this choice on the woman.

Germany also has a three day cooling off period of reflection after a decision to have an abortion is made before it can be carried out. Furthermore the counseling must by done by someone other than the doctor (or agency) doing the abortion.

The provisions are laid out in Section 219 of the German Criminal Code in a section titled ‘Counseling of Pregnant Women in an Emergency or Conflict Situation’ as follows:

(1) The counseling serves to protect unborn life. It should be guided by efforts to encourage the woman to continue the pregnancy and to open her to the prospects of a life with the child; it should help her to make a responsible and conscientious decision. The woman must thereby be aware, that the unborn child has its own right to life with respect to her at every stage of the pregnancy and that a termination of pregnancy can therefore only be considered under the legal order in exceptional situations, when carrying the child to term would give rise to a burden for the woman which is so serious and extraordinary that it exceeds the reasonable limits of sacrifice. The counseling should, through advice and assistance, contribute to overcoming the conflict situation which exists in connection with the pregnancy and remedying an emergency situation. Further details shall be regulated by the Act on Pregnancies in Conflict Situations.

(2) The counseling must take place pursuant to the Act on Pregnancies in Conflict Situations through a recognized Pregnancy Conflict Counseling Agency. After the conclusion of the counseling on the subject, the counseling agency must issue the pregnant woman a certificate including the date of the last counseling session and the name of the pregnant woman in accordance with the Act on Pregnancies in Conflict Situations. The physician who performs the termination of pregnancy is excluded from being a counselor.
Not perfect, but its better than what we have, which is virtually "abortion on demand" with absolutely no consideration for "the right to life and to inviolability of his person."


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