Monday, August 27, 2012

Evolution of the Pro-Choice Mind: Movement Toward Dialogue

For many years the pro-life and pro-choice movements have been speaking past each other.

Pro-lifers yell, "Life begins at conception!" while pro-choicers yell, "An individual's conscience determines when life begins!" 

The pro-choice movement gives a cacophony of different criteria for determining when life (that has a right to live) begins, uniting in the universal plea to respect an individual's conscience. This line of thinking leads to believing that the only thing that protects a child from abortion is birth, (and sometimes not even that). 

(And if you think that this is a minority view in the pro-choice world, you may be forgetting that President Obama holds this opinion

Pro-lifers rightly point out that if an individual's conscience is the be all end all then infanticide is theoretically acceptable, as the cutting of an umbilical cord is an arbitrary place to draw the line to determine when human life is worth protecting. 

Developing science and a growing awareness of the complexity of the issue has begun to move younger generations to demand that the pro-choice movement address head on the moral implications of abortion, instead of arguing women have a right to choose, period.

And there is evidence that the pro-choice movement has begun to listen, to craft their arguments in view of this growing awareness that abortion is a moral issue that demands more subtle dialogue.

Even Francis Kissling, the former president of Catholics for Choice, in an op-ed for the Washington Post last year argued that the pro-choice movement must begin to look at this issue with more nuance than they did in 1973:
We can no longer pretend the fetus is invisible ... We must end the fiction that an abortion at 26 weeks is no different from one at six weeks. These are not compromises or mere strategic concessions, they are a necessary evolution. The positions we have taken up to now are inadequate for the questions of the 21st century.
This movement to look at abortion as a moral act is a sign of progress toward intellectual honesty in the abortion rights movement. 

It is a sign of hope that we may finally begin to talk to each other.

What if Your Mother Aborted You? 

Evidence that we have begun to talk to each other was plain in a recent article in which a woman addressed the pro-life question – “What if your mother had aborted you?”

This is question is lurking beneath the surface of pro-choice reasoning but most people like to hold it underwater, hoping it will lose the will to live. 

Instead, the pro-choice mentality focuses on the people abortion will affect, rather than the logical reality that their belief system put their own lives, and the lives of those they love, in danger of dying before their birth. 
(I explored the far reaching implications of this mentality in another blog post). 

The recently published article that addresses this issue from the pro-choice point of view is shockingly entitled “I Wish My Mother Had Aborted Me.” In it, the author argues that in order for the pro-choice movement to regain traction, people must be willing to say that they should have been aborted:
"If we want to keep our reproductive rights, we must be willing to tell our stories, to be willing and able to say, “I love my life, but I wish my mother had aborted me."
Although it makes me very sad to see someone think like this, it is also a relief to see the pro-choice movement bringing their logic to its tail end. 

Bringing the Logic Home

Some pro-choicers who have stuck with the "Life Begins When We Want it to Begin" line are starting to show signs they have begun to face the logical result of this kind of reasoning.

Recently, in the Journal of Medical Ethics, two Australian academics published a paper entitled "After birth abortion - why should the baby live?" In the paper, the academics nonchalantly discuss the logical question that results from the pro-choice mentality - if fetuses do not have the right to live, what makes us think infants have a right to life?

The authors argue that an infant is not a person, just as a fetus is not a person. In the mindset of the authors, personhood begins when an individual values their existence, when the loss of their life would be a conscious loss to that person. Hence, it is acceptable to kill a fetus, and hence it is acceptable to kill an infant.

Therefore, the authors argue that there is no logical reason why infanticide should not be permissible as well:
When circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.
The authors even sound like they are promoting a Catholic worldview at one point, rightly pointing out that:
Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.
One wants to say, "Exactly! Which is why all of these things should not be permissible." But the authors, seeing the facts, take the opposite road. 

It is abhorrent, it is sickening, but at least it is intellectually honest. At least we can have a conversation on the same terms.

Peter Singer, a respected ethicist, who has argued in support of the logical end of the pro-choice mindset for a long time, but has been painted as a monster, puts it succinctly:
The fallacy in the anti-abortion argument lies in the shift from the scientifically accurate claim that the fetus is a living individual of the species Homo sapiens to the ethical claim that the fetus therefore has the same right to life as any other human being. Membership of the species Homo sapiens is not enough to confer a right to life on a being. 
Now we’re getting somewhere.

Some of you may be horrified that I am cheering for these abhorrent views.

But I cheer for them in the same way I cheer for atheism. I appreciate the honest atheist; they have often thought about the most important questions in life and they have chosen sides. The wrong side in my opinion, but at least they are choosing sides.

In-betweens, vagaries, mushy “I don’t know so I’m not going to think about it” relativism is much more frightening to me than the kind of thinking that has common logical ground and can actually lead to some kind of dialogue that means something. As GK Chesterton said, “Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” 

At least people are drawing a line somewhere.

Now, we just have to decide if this is where we want to draw the line and how. Do we want to draw lines that can continually be pushed further and further, depending on what the collective society determines to be the criteria for human life that deserves to be protected? 

Or do we want to draw lines that cannot be moved, lines that demonstrate that truth is not mushy, that human life is precious and worth protecting, and that there is a common moral ground that is discoverable and worth holding on to?

Let's start talking so we can start drawing.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Family Research Council Shooting & the Ghettoization of the American Mind

There are some people we just don't want to understand. They are not worth the time or energy, and frankly we believe that they do not deserve our love or understanding.
We live in a society where the people who can express hatred with the most wit and semblance of class get congratulatory slaps on the back and more cocktail party invites.

Building walls and throwing a certain group of people within them gives us permission to let out our suppressed rage. It allows us to behave in normally unacceptable ways. We spout vitriol, bully, stereotype, and use violent language. But as long as we direct our rage at a group of people everyone else in the room (or cyber room) hates, well bully for us! No one holds us accountable. 

Think you don't fall prey to this behavior?

Take a look at this list and tell me you don't have feelings of hatred for any of these groups of people:

Homosexuals, Republicans, Liberal Christians, Murderers, Democrats, Rich people, Pedophiles, Abortionists, Rapists, Atheists, Muslims, Pro-lifers, Fundamentalist Christians, Terrorists, Orthodox Catholics, Politicians, Poachers, Racists, Abortionists, Human Traffickers, Anarchists

It is human, of course, to create mind ghettos. We do it for survival. We do it because as humans we feel the need to limit how much we love. Humans ration love as if we were living in an underground bunker after a nuclear war and love is the last five cans of beans we have left. We don't think we can afford to love the guy boarding the bus next to us, let alone the cast aways, the no goods, the misunderstood and the bad guys of the world. Who has enough love for those people?

What makes this natural human tendency in the United States even more problematic is the polarization of American politics. Many of us rarely speak to or interact with people who think very differently from us, and if we do, we rarely discuss our disagreements without practically spitting at each other. Many people are unwilling or unable to think with subtlety when it comes to their political views. Most people twist and contort their convictions to either fit within the bounds of the Democratic or Republican platform. This is what is comfortable to us. Otherwise, what would we have to be angry about? If our views were not subtle enough to fit into neat categories, it would be much harder to throw tantrums that others would join in on. Who would we skewer when we are among like-minded people? Who would be left to hate?

Many Americans are stuffing millions of people in the ghettos of our minds because they mindlessly give in to the false divisions that our political parties encourage in our country.

Many of you have probably heard of the shooting that occurred this past Wednesday at the Family Research Council’s headquarters in DC.

The suspect was heard ranting against the organization’s conservative views and carried Chick-fil-A sandwiches in his backpack before he shot the security guard who heroically prevented him from entering the building.

I am not very familiar with the Family Research Council and its work. I actually only recently heard of them through the publicity surrounding Chick-fil-A, before the shooting occurred. Like many of you, during the Chick-fil-A brouhaha, I read several articles with “evidence” that Chick-fil-A supports hate groups. When I looked at the list of the purported “hate groups” the company supports, I got chills. They were almost all Christian groups with the word “family” in the title.

The Family Research Council is a lobbying organization in DC, whose vision, according to their website “is a culture in which human life is valued, families flourish and religious liberty thrives.”

Sounds fairly innocuous right? Not so, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which deemed the organization a "hate group" in 2010. There was protest when the group received this label in 2010, but only now after a shooting has occurred does it seem that this label is under any scrutiny.

Many major media outlets have been referring to the "hate group" label every time they report the shooting. CNN, for one, dug up a 13 year old quote from an FRC pamphlet that said that the “primary goal of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws.”  This quote is extremely off base and inaccurate, and people have every right to be incensed when they read this. But to label an organization as a hate group when the last quote you can dig up that qualifies as hateful is from 1999 is extremely questionable and dangerous reasoning in my opinion.

To give the label of "hate group" to an organizations opens it up to possible retributive actions. It is a label that belongs to the KKK and other groups that are ideologically based in hatred for another group of people. They receive this label because their hateful rhetoric incites violence.

Incite violence.

Yes, that seems to be what is happening here.

But it is not just the extreme right or the fringe gay rights advocates who are inciting violence. It is all of us. Our ability to numb our minds to the violent rhetoric on both sides is shocking. Our mindless capacity to participate is even more bone chilling.

We have all fallen victim to the ghettoization of our minds.

Who are in these ghettos? People who are not acceptable to us because of their views or behavior. People we can spew venom at because they deserve it and because they really are that terrible. People we can box up and dismiss, because their point of view or actions are really that vile and unforgivable.

Where does this violence of the mind lead? It leads to violence of the heart, violence of the words, violence in our actions. How can we possibly think that speaking violently does not lead to literal violence in the world?

We cannot control what others do. The gay rights movement could not control Floyd Corkins’ decision to enter the headquarters of the Family Research Council with a gun. Pro-life people could not control Scott Roeder when he murdered abortionist George Tiller. Christians cannot control other people who claim to speak for God, but encourage hate and violence. Atheists cannot control the loose cannons who spout hate for people of faith.

When tragedies like this happen, everyone wants to blame someone. The fingers start pointing right away. It is indeed possible that the "hate group" label contributed to this event. Maybe it was the inflamed rhetoric. Or maybe it was just one crazy guy who seriously needs some help.

The thing is, when things like this happen, the only thing we can really do that helps anyone is to start looking inward.

We have no control over others. But we can control our own contribution to violence in our society.

And we can begin by demolishing the ghettos in our minds.

This does not mean that we all have to sing kumbaya around a campfire. We can still disagree. We can still hate certain behaviors and dislike certain points of view. We can still speak the truth, with the humble awareness that no one has a full understanding of the Truth.

But we can stop creating ghettos for our neighbors and fellow human beings. We can break down the walls, smash barriers. Get to know people we disagree with, even people whose behavior and views we hate. We can talk to each other respectfully, try to understand.

And most importantly, we can simply acknowledge that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.

No matter how much we try to mar ourselves in sin, we are all redeemable.

No one is beyond the love of God.

No one deserves to live in anyone's mind ghetto.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Shame on America Magazine (and all of us really..)

Sorry, not gonna sing the praises of this latest article...
I am a reader of America magazine, the national Catholic weekly put out by the Jesuits. I appreciate the international perspective, as well as many of the stories. As long as I overlook some of the subtle (and not so subtle) jabs at hierarchy, I find it an interesting read, even though I don’t always agree with the angles the writers take.

This week America came out with an online article about me. Well, not really about me, but about all women who are joining religious orders around the country. The article was based on an analysis of the CARA study, conducted in 2009, of religious vocations in the US.

The results of the study have been used by many on both sides of the divide within the Church. The “progressive” side argues that the study’s results are given the wrong twist. The “traditional” side practically sings and does touch down dances because it looks like the younger generations actually do value such archaic things as habits and hierarchy.

America magazine added their voice to this already delightful chorus with their summary of the article which was posted on their blog:

“Overall, of all the women entering religious orders these days, roughly half choose progressive groups, and roughly half choose traditional groups.”

When I read this sentence I felt indignant. As I made my way to chapel yesterday for evening prayer my indignation grew and I spent some time thinking about why I felt this way.

In the end, I realized that not only was this a misrepresentation of the data, but it leads people to somehow believe that women who are discerning are aware of this ugly, political underbelly of Catholic life and are joining congregations that are part of the LCWR because they are throwing their lot in with the “progressives” of the Church, or vice versa. Hence, the inferred conclusion of America’s assessment of the situation: Women joining religious orders are divided just like the faithful within Church, (and the citizens of the US).

If you read the study, it shows that men and women join religious orders primarily because of the spiritual life. 91% considered this “Somewhat” or “Very Important.” In other words, people join orders because they are attracted to the charism and special spirituality of that order within the Church. This is the Holy Spirit at work. Finding a congregation is like finding a spouse. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a family, (and like all families there is some dysfunction no matter where you go). 

Finally, perhaps the most relevant finding of the study to the America magazine article: 70% of respondents either answered that they were “Somewhat” or “Very Much” attracted to their institute because of fidelity to the Church. It is interesting to note, that women who consider fidelity to the Church to be important, but have joined an institute in which this is an issue, would not have answered “Somewhat” or “Very Important” because they would have joined despite the institute’s issues with fidelity.

If we look at this statistic generationally, it is even more startling. 68% of the youngest generation joining religious life, the Millenials, answered that fidelity to the Church was “Very Much” important. This number does not include the “Somewhat” respondents and again, this does not include men and women who may have joined orders despite issues of fidelity.

This is not exactly the reality that the America article suggests.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not doing a touch down dance and saying, “I told you so.” I'm not joining that chorus of voices. I, along with many of these young men and women, do not value fidelity to the Church because we are crusty traditionalists who like to engage in war with progressives. We care about social justice, and so-called progressive issues, but we also care about the Church. We value the authority of the Church because we live in a time of relativism. We see, consciously or unconsciously, that authority and hierarchy are needed gifts of God to the Church. We have seen the scandals in the Church, but we also see the difference between God-given authority and human fallibility.

Our ability to see these things is not political, it is inspired.

If America magazine, and others, do not want to recognize this reality in some of the most committed younger generations of the Church, that is their choice. 

But to both the "right" and the "left" in this seriously off-pitch chorus of voices:

Please leave the good men and women joining religious congregations out of this political bickering and not so subtle jabs at other “sides” within the Church. We love Jesus, we love the Church and we love all of you. But we do not love this bickering.

Here’s to hoping new generations of Catholics will be able to see the need to move beyond this tiresome division that must sadden Jesus so much.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

At the Precipice: Gay Rights and Religious Freedom

You would think I had enough of this after the last extremely controversial post, but no.

Many people are not happy that I am writing about this subject but today I received a message from a close friend who disagrees with me, but did so with love and understanding. And even though we disagree, my friend was grateful that I am writing about this from a loving perspective. It brought tears to my eyes.

We really can talk about this issue without referring to culture "wars," demonizing others and treating people who do not agree with us as if they are idiots or bigots. So, I will keep writing about this, (although I might take a little break after this post).

Here is my followup post on Ignitum Today:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I'm a Christian, Not a Bigot, Thanks.

I think humans like extreme situations, or at least creating extreme situations in their minds, because this allows us to behave in a way that is otherwise socially unacceptable, sometimes violent in speech and action, and usually not truthful or charitable.

Extreme situations warrant taking the gloves off, and I think we humans secretly like that.

TV shows and movies create these extreme situations all the time because they allow the hero to run around doing dubious things while the audience says to themselves, “Well, the world is ending” or “Well, if he doesn’t do that (insert morally questionable, but entertaining thing) then major city X will be destroyed!” Anyone who was a fan of the show 24 knows what I am talking about.

A perfect example of creating extreme situations is found in the rhetoric in the debate over gay marriage. Gloves are definitely off. Supporters of gay marriage have, perhaps unwittingly, created a scenario in which debate and dialogue is virtually impossible. Opposition to gay marriage has been painted as the equivalent of being a racist. Hence, the situation is serious enough in the minds of many that polite discourse is not necessary. Perhaps this was purposeful, or this is really what people in good faith (and bad logic) think. But, whatever the intention, things are getting nasty. It is turning out to be pretty dangerous for Christians or anyone who comes out and dares to say they are a bit hesitant to redefine marriage, a basic building block of society.

Any unlucky fellow who dares to say he has a contrary opinion to gay marriage as a civil right, based on reason and faith, is immediately sent to the gallows of public opinion. Even in the case of the Chick-fil-A President, Dan Cathy, it has become apparent that any statement in support of the traditional view of marriage without so much as a word about gay rights is automatically labeled hate speech. Gay rights advocates are basically sending the message that to hold widely held Christian beliefs is to be hateful.

Note - There are many reasons to oppose gay unions being defined as marriage. I am not going to outline them in this post. Others have done this and have done a very good job. What I want to refute is simply the faulty logic of those who say that opposition to gay marriage is equivalent to bigotry.

Let's Talk Logic

So, how do we get from Christians vocalizing their beliefs about marriage to calling them bigots? We don’t. The logic simply is not there. Just because a Christian believes that marriage means one thing, does not mean that they hate anyone who wants it redefined. It’s pretty obvious. And yet, very educated, intelligent people espouse this downright erroneous and hateful point of view every day.

Don’t get me wrong, gay rights is an issue of civil rights. Gay people have the right to live a life free of discrimination and hate. As Christians, we believe in the dignity and value of every single human person. This is at the foundation of our faith. But Christian opposition to gay marriage has nothing to do with gay people per se. In other words, our opposition to gay marriage is not inherently bigoted – sound like word play? It’s really not.

It may happen to be true that a Christian is also a bigot and therefore he believes marriage is between a man and a woman because he is bigoted. But this is like a person who hates golfers and therefore thinks they should be barred from the World Series. All people who believe golfers should be barred from the World Series do not, therefore, believe this because they hate golfers. This is a pretty clear logical distinction but it is unfortunately lost on the majority of people who support gay marriage.

Many Christians believe that acting on homosexual inclinations is a sin, which is not an automatically bigoted perspective. But even if you believe it is bigoted to think this, it is not logically related to the Christian view of marriage, (even though Christians and others conflate the two all the time). The only way it is related is to say that the Christian definition of marriage simply doesn’t include other arrangements, not because we hate people who want them, but because our view of marriage, which has been virtually universally accepted since the beginning of time, simply excludes other forms of human relationship. We believe this view of marriage is best for society as a whole, as well as individuals – it is not hateful or shocking to express this point of view, at least it shouldn’t be!

If polygamy were all the rage, we would, and do, speak the truth that polygamous arrangements are not in fact marriage. If people wanted to say that after holding your girlfriend or boyfriend’s hand, you were de facto married, we would oppose that as well. We take issue not with the people who are engaging in what we do not believe to be marriage; we take issue with redefining marriage. All we are saying is, “There are going to be implications to redefining the traditional understanding of marriage, the very nucleus of society, and we oppose it.” Period.

Christians in a State of Fear & Trembling?

Sadly, Christians are shaking in their boots, especially the ones who are just not sure what to make of this whole subject. Many are not even looking into the issue and are simply parroting their support for gay marriage because they don’t want to be accused of being bigots. Pretty understandable. I hesitated in writing this article. I may lose friends. I have never spoken openly about this subject except to those closest to me. But it is time for Christians to speak out.

Even if you are a Christian who supports gay marriage, how can you stand by while other people of faith are smeared based on logic that is faulty? Perhaps you are doing it yourself. Maybe it’s time to stop. Please?

We need the loving voices of Christians who do not hate their gay brothers and sisters to speak the truth of our faith in love and without fear. Because if we allow this erroneous logic to stand, that adhering to our religious beliefs is hate speech, it will become the law of the land, as it has in Canada and other countries. Any Christian preaching about what we believe to be the beauty of marriage will be considered hate language, and people will be sued and jailed. Think that’s extreme conspiracy theory paranoia? It’s already happening in Europe.

To conclude, as I consider this issue, I think about all the strides that we, as a society, have made so that gays will not be discriminated against, made to feel inferior, or worthless. I am glad that the gay rights movement is happening. I am glad that bullying, violence and hate are being combated. I feel shame that people who call themselves Christians have been a part of this discrimination, and still are. Expressions of the Christian point of view on the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage should only be filled with love and concern for those who experience same sex attraction.

I just don't believe the pendulum of this social movement should move in such a way that it advances right for Christians’ heads. In order to gain respect for one group, it is not necessary to disrespect another. This debate can be held in a way that does not demonize either side. Open and compassionate dialogue is possible. Really.

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