The Retreat from Enlightenment

The folly of the abandonment of our once enlightened society continues unabated. With the recent Supreme Court 5-4 decision allowing the Draconian Texas Abortion Statute to take effect—which, if we keep with the supporters claim to be pro-life, then they also must be characterized as pro-rape and pro-incest—it is another nail in the coffin of a humane, moral, and ethical society.

In an unsigned ruling backed by a narrow 5-4 majority, the Supreme Court allowed a Texas law banning all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy to go into effect. The court heard no oral argument and dealt with the matter in a mere three days.

While the decision doesn’t address the law’s constitutionality—something that will surely come later—it is an omen of things to come.

The court said,

 “In reaching this conclusion, we stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit. In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts.”

While this language offers a glimmer of hope, it is a weak and faltering one. The conservative agenda to overturn Roe V Wade is well established. The addition of the three conservative justices nominated by President Trump were the deciding votes.

The whole basis of the anti-abortion movement is a claim to moral superiority. The overwhelming basis of this position is religious, which is an anathema to effective secular public policy. This interjection of a religion-based morality is a danger to our society. When one segment, holding a slim majority in critical institutions like the Supreme Court, dictates restrictions over a woman’s right to control her own body based on primarily religious tenets, it is a slippery slope toward a theocracy.

There is little if anything about abortion in the Bible, the primary authority for the evangelicals and religious conservatives, but there are many guidelines on taking and keeping slaves and smiting one’s enemies, sacrificial offerings, and the seminal output of donkeys, but not too much about abortions.

There is this gem from Numbers 27,

” If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.”

This, of course, is directed only at women with no similar verse about men, which, of course, is in keeping with the whole male-dominated orientation of almost every religion.

But there is a glaring inconsistency in the conservative claim to a duty to protect all lives. Their concern stops at birth. As philosopher George Carlin put it, “pre-born you’re precious, post-birth you’re f$%$ed.” Nor does this concern extend to God’s children from south of the border or pretty much anywhere else where the language, skin tone, or (most importantly) religious affiliation is in contrast to the conservative concept of the ideal.

The same cabal that argues they have the moral obligation to take choice away from women also demands that the government stay out of their choice to be vaccinated or wear a mask. This despite the clear and irrefutable evidence that vaccines and masks save lives and reduce the spread of the disease.

I would argue this. We can present overwhelming scientific evidence of the efficacy and benefit to society of vaccines and masks. Those who oppose abortion and foster these restrictions on women argue they are answering to a higher power. Yet they cannot present one scintilla of evidence of the actual existence of this power. They claim their morality comes from a god.

This invisible being has inspired more death than any other cause in the history of the world.

If one wants to rely on moral authority, one should, at a minimum, be able to offer evidence of the reality of the authority; faith is not evidence no matter how sincere. Unfortunately, many of the same people celebrating the Texas Abortion statute are the very same people arguing against government-mandated vaccinations and mask requirements.

Disingenuous doesn’t even come close.

One of the most cited authorities on the Christian religion—for this is a primarily Evangelical Christian driven cause—is Thomas Aquinas, the author of Summa Theologica. Aquinas essentially argues that man is incapable of crafting anything superior to the moral dictates of God. Thus the title, Summa Theologica, Highest Theology.

Another titan of the Church, Saint Augustine, testifies in his own Summa Theologica,

“… if reason is turned against the authority of sacred Scripture, no matter how specious it may seem, it errs in the likeness of truth; for true it cannot be.”

Such imposition of surrender to faith, despite rational discoveries to the contrary, was reinforced and demanded under penalty of death for heresy. Augustine also argued,

“A wise man, therefore, would not accuse faith and look upon it as opposed to reason and natural truths, but would rather offer heartfelt thanks to God, and sincerely rejoice that, in the density of ignorance and in the flood-tide of error, holy faith, like a friendly star, shines down upon his path and points out to him the fair gate of truth beyond all danger of wandering.”

“If triangles had a god, they would give him three sides.”

Montesquieu

Thus, the basis of reliance on Biblical authority rests on the premise that man is incapable of creating anything superior to that contained in the faith as described in the inerrant word of God in the Bible.

And yet, over the centuries when the Church would perform exorcisms over epileptics, accuse those with deformities as being the product of consorting with devils, or contend that certain members of society were more worthy of salvation than others as evidence by a host of debilitating conditions, science and rationality made medical breakthroughs in treating such conditions.

Thus, I would argue, accepting that secular humans are incapable of determining a moral course for themselves based on what has clearly been a false premise is not only dangerous but despicable.

Man is not only capable of reason, he is also compelled by it. It is the only thing that stands between us and mythical nonsense.

In a 1784 essay, Immanuel Kant answered that reason comprises,

 “humankind’s emergence from its self-incurred immaturity,” its “lazy and cowardly,” submission to the “dogmas and formulas” of religious or political authority.

Humans created religions to explain what they did not understand. The most educated person in 17th century England would tell you that storms at sea were caused by sea witches. Belief absent proof is merely an analgesic for ignorance. The enlightenment would dispel such nonsense and set us on a more rational, and I would suggest a more moral course.

Montesquieu wrote,

“If triangles had a god, they would give him three sides.”

Thus, man created the gods in his own image and endowed them with the wisdom to control the things man could not understand. At best, God is like  Schrödinger’s cat, both dead and alive until we observe him. Something that some contend only happened in Israel before the advent of mass communication.

Another of the arguments for a return to a more “moral” society when abortions were outlawed is the false nostalgia for the past.

“Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.” Franklin Pierce Adams

Stephanie Coontz, a debunker of 1950s nostalgia, puts some numbers to the depictions: A full 25 percent of Americans, 40 to 50 million people, were poor in the mid-1950s, and in the absence of food stamps and housing programs, this poverty was searing. Even at the end of the 1950s, a third of American children were poor.

Sixty percent of Americans over sixty-five had incomes below $1,000 in 1958, considerably below the $3,000 to $10,000 level considered to represent middle-class status. A majority of elders also lacked medical insurance. Only half the population had savings in 1959; one-quarter of the population had no liquid assets at all. Even when we consider only native-born, white families, one-third could not get by on the income of the household head. (https://www.stephaniecoontz.com/)

While the good ole days may have created good memories, it also whitewashed the downside. During those same times, racial and gender inequality was a reality for more than half of Americans. Abortions, while illegal under almost all circumstances, were always available to the wealthy; the poor were forced into the back alleys.

We are in grave danger of recreating the reality of those times with laws such as the Texas abortion statute. It was because of such conditions that Roe v Wade came to be. The court recognized the availability of abortions, and the need for it to be within the woman’s sole discretion, was essential and constitutional. Any attempts to reimpose such conditions will lead to infinitely more moral bankruptcy, not less.

Those who support the Texas statute and overturning Roe v Wade have no moral standing or superiority in the matter. Instead, the motivation is driven by their religious beliefs and the need to have those beliefs not just embraced by the state but openly supported by it.

I would suggest that a close examination of the arguments against abortion falls into this narrow religious claim to determine morality. Religion has no exclusive command of morality. Secular, rational humanistic morality is more than equal to any such faith-based pronouncements.

Philosopher Harry Frankfurt said it best.

“From the point of view of morality, it is not important everyone should have the same. What is morally important is that each should have enough.” Harry Frankfurt.

I know moral behavior and laws such as the Texas statute are not moral; they are Draconian control over women. Every woman should have the absolute right to decide with no interference from the government. We have no need for religion to provide moral guidance or be the basis of secular law. As a matter of morality, we should openly oppose it.

Saints, Sinners, and Sophistry

“One may safely affirm that all popular theology has a kind of appetite for absurdity and contradiction…. While their gloomy apprehensions make them ascribe to Him measures of conduct which in human creatures would be blamed, they must still affect to praise and admire that conduct in the object of their devotional addresses. Thus it may safely be affirmed that popular religions are really, in the conception of their more vulgar votaries, a species of daemonism.” David Hume, The Natural History of Religion

A recent piece of mine (https://joebroadmeadowblog.com/2020/10/17/nationalism-militarism-patriotism-government-and-a-social-market-economy/) brought with it the usual criticisms, recriminations, condemnations, castigations, and accusations. Of course, this is why I do this. Truth be told, I often learn things from those who hold different opinions, and, on the rare occasion, it changes my point of view.

One comment concerned whether I support abortion on demand. They then launched into the usual macabre reference to third-trimester abortion, which is never merely on-demand besides being the rarest of abortions. Nor would any such rational legislative body seek to make it so.

The comment also included a quote from Mother Teresa. 

“America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts — a child — as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters” And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.” 

Rather interesting moral pontificating from a woman who, while she certainly accomplished many good and worthy things, did not differ from the missionaries in the past. They came unbidden, sure of their just purpose, wrapped in the best of intentions, and set about converting those who did not embrace the Christian Faith as the priority, using charity and kindness or, when necessary, more direct measures to mask their real purpose.

If forced baptisms and compelled deathbed conversions to Catholicism were not a well-documented element of her mission, I would have a different perspective. But the truth is, she does not differ from every missionary who dragged Native American children to Indian Schools. They were sincere in the fervor, and it blinded them to what amounted to cultural genocide. What they saw as doing God’s work saving souls allowed them to ignore the destruction of one religious philosophy for the sake of another.

Often those who appear saintly turn out to be a mere self-deception by those who would believe. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Mundi vult decipi—ergo decipiatur (The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived.)

Petronius

So, on to Mother Teresa. First, I have no doubt about her sincerity that she was doing God’s work. But then every missionary believes in the necessity to convert the heathen masses to the Word of (Insert the name of the particular God here.)

People needed saving from the devil’s false gospel and to bathe in the blood of Jesus. The problem is you can substitute any devil and God in the form of an alternate orthodoxy of any faith and still have the pretense of doing good. At the same time, your real purpose is merely conversion. 

Mother Teresa needed the poor more than they needed her. Here’s what she had to say in her own words from various interviews, movies, and television appearances.

In an interview for a film documented by Christopher Hitchens in his book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, the good sister had this to say about a cancer patient’s suffering.

“She described a person who was in the last agonies of cancer and suffering unbearable pain. With a smile, Mother Teresa told the camera what she told this terminal patient: “You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.”  Unconscious of the account to which this irony might be charged, she then told of the sufferer’s reply: “Then please tell him to stop kissing me.” (The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice pg. 44 Kindle Edition)

While being honored at a luncheon meeting at the International Health Organization in 1989. She had this to say about tolerance.

“During her acceptance speech, she spoke at length of her opposition to contraception and her activities to save the unwanted products of heterosexual activity. She also touched on AIDS, saying she did not want to label it a scourge of God but that it did seem like a just retribution for improper sexual conduct. (The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice location pg. 52 Kindle Edition)

While one can argue she inspired many to dedicate their lives to helping the poor and downtrodden, it is a legitimate criticism that her primary purpose was not to alleviate the suffering but to frame it in the context of her fundamentalist Catholic Doctrine.

Many former sisters, volunteers, and medical personnel questioned her rationalization for resisting using pain medications—even in hospice situations—because, she insisted, God sent the suffering and we must be willing to accept his decisions.

Her opposition to abortion aside, arguing against contraception, the one inexpensive and non-invasive method of population control, family planning, and effective means of eliminating overburdened families in poverty, cannot be rationalized.  

It is based on interpretations of ancient texts, rewritten and revised by Popes, Kings, and Priests with vested interests in their promulgation and maintaining male dominance of the religion.

It is nothing but the antithesis of compassion.

There are also many questions about her handling millions of dollars in donations that remain unanswered. These are well documented and available for anyone to inquire about. Her close association with brutal governments, albeit supported by Catholic clergy, questions her judgment.

That some in America would point to her as a beacon of morality is troubling. Leo Strauss, who had a profound influence on the Republican Right-wing majority, said this.

“Christian America cares for people before they are born and after they are dead but is only interested in clerical coercion for the years in between.”

Leo Straus

This perfectly sums up the good sister’s intentions. While she was the founder of a worthy order and can be admired for inspiring many to serve the poor, unmasking her motivations reveals a darker, troubling side. Suffering that can be eliminated or minimized should always be the goal. To subvert that worthy cause in pursuit of some egomaniacal claim to understanding God’s will is abhorrent.

That in the 21st Century, we have people who still believe in beings who can operate outside the laws of physics astounds me. In the debate over morality, if one wants to use religious tenets and the actions of those who embrace them as a justification for holding certain beliefs, one must be willing to scrutinize them.

Like many myths, they rarely survive the inquiry.

But here’s something that is not a myth and can stand up to scrutiny.  One of the most effective ways to reduce abortions is access to birth control and medical care. 

Organizations like Planned Parenthood, whose primary purpose is not to encourage abortions but to provide sound medical advice and options to women of childbearing age, is one such entity.

In the philosophy of Mother Teresa, contraception is against the Word of God and thus equal to abortion in moral terms. Such archaic morality flies in the face of human sexuality. The tongue-in-cheek title of Hitchens’s book, The Missionary Position, illustrates this well. And there is little need to mention the duplicitousness of the Catholic Church’s moral stance in the sexual abuse scandal.

Here’s another myth needing to be dispelled. Third-trimester abortions are common and made at the whim of the mother. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Third-trimester abortions are the rarest of events, always done for medically sound reasons, and are among the most heartbreaking decisions a woman has to make. That anyone would believe this is an appropriate place for external governmental or religious doctrinal intrusion is ludicrous.

Mother Teresa may become a Saint one day in the Catholic Church. Part of that process will include the advocatus diaboli, the Devil’s Advocate. It would be interesting to hear how those arguments are framed.

In the mythical realm of Saints and Sinners, we are all just human. No evidence exists to the contrary.

______________________________________________________________________________

As always, I await the onslaught of criticisms, recriminations, condemnations, castigations, and accusations. I shall prepare another coffee and await my fate…

Moral Imperative?

In the ongoing debate over abortion, some states have proposed codifying the protections of Roe V. Wade. Rhode Island being one.

The latest proposed measure, The Reproductive Health Care Act, failed in committee in the Senate. The bill mirrors the measure passed by the house (http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText19/HouseText19/H5127.pdf)

There were two arguments made against the bill that troubled me. One was from a Senator who opposed the bill because of the “Moral Imperative in the sanctity of life endowed by our Creator.” He said he understood he held a secular office, but this “Moral Imperative” guides his decisions. While he didn’t specify the Christian basis for his opposition, the implication was clear.

I would argue this, if one will invoke a “higher authority” imposing a moral imperative on operating government, is it too much to ask that we see actual evidence of the higher authority? Something other than quotes from ancient texts? Something other than faith, no matter how sincere?

If a legislature wishes to pass laws that meet the standard of moral imperative, shouldn’t we be able to test the validity of such a statute without having to resort to our imagination? Without having to imagine what such higher authority is. Without pushing incredulity to new heights.

I don’t think it too much to ask we keep crafting secular laws, operating a secular government, and secular enforcement of such laws, secular.

The second argument is even more ludicrous and disingenuous. Some Senators who opposed the current format of the legislation expressed concern the language of the legislation would mitigate other laws protecting unborn fetuses injured by criminal actions.

Under Rhode Island law, killing a pregnant woman can result in two counts of murder. Thus, one may argue, Rhode Island law already defines a fetus as a human. It does not, but that is not what strikes me as incongruous.

It is this trend to creating special classes of victims because being just a “plain ole” victim doesn’t seem enough to warrant protection under the law.

It reminds me of the TV show Law & Order Special Victims Unit.

The term “special victims” always struck me as odd, Now I understand the inherent abhorrence about sexual assaults and crimes against children, but the term “special” victims implies there are “not so special” victims.

Or “sort of” victims. Or “we’ll get to you when we have time” victims. Or “you deserved what you got” victims. I understand the perception we often ignored these “special” victims, but that doesn’t mean we solve it by ignoring others.

Perhaps the problem is not losing the option to charge someone with two counts of murder when the case involves a pregnant woman. Maybe the problem is the way we’ve created a special class of victims.  Wouldn’t it be enough if we considered all victims of crimes equal under the law?  Wouldn’t treating every victim the same accomplish the purpose?

If someone commits murder, why should it matter the condition of the victim? Why would we need to waste time and effort arguing that killing a pregnant woman somehow requires more severe punishment than an elderly woman, or a woman who is not pregnant, or a man? Why does the status of the victim determine the severity of the crime?

I do not see the difference between killing a woman and killing a pregnant woman. If killing the pregnant women is “worse” than the implication is killing a non-pregnant woman is not as bad. Now that is ludicrous.

Shouldn’t taking a human life—a living person—be enough to warrant the same penalty no matter who they are or what they are in life?

I can only hope rationality reasserts itself in this debate but, under the specter of the moral imperative and with disingenuousness raised to an art form, I have my doubts.

Stepping in the Minefield of Abortion

At the risk of stepping into a minefield–oh hell who am I kidding I love stepping into minefields–I would like to set the record straight on the New York legislation regarding late-term abortions.

I was struck by the words of Timothy Cardinal Dolan (the archbishop of New York and member in good standing of the Catholic Church, one of the most disingenuous and corrupt organizations ever conceived by man, even if many of its members are good and kind people) who said the Reproductive Health Act of New York was a “ghoulish, grisly, gruesome,” practice.

wordmap

It started the usual social media debate. At first, I thought to let it pass. But, alas, I could not.

Here’s that actual language from the statute.

“According to the practitioner’s reasonable and good faith professional judgment based on the facts of the patient’s case: the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” (https://legislation.nysenate.gov/pdf/bills/2019/S240)

The Reproductive Health Act will permit abortions after 24 weeks in cases where a woman’s life or health would be threatened by continuing the pregnancy. It also allows licensed nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide abortion services and decriminalizes abortion.

It is a pre-emptive strike against any Supreme Court reversal of the well-established, yet misunderstood, Roe V. Wade decision. The movement to overturn Roe, almost exclusively funded and driven by religious fundamentalism, poses a grave danger to women’s rights.

Their efforts have not been without success.

Several states passed what is known as “heartbeat” restrictions, limiting abortions once the heartbeat begins. These statutes artfully dodge the fact that most women do not even know they are pregnant at that point.

These states’ highways and byways are oft adorned with myriad Come to Jesus signs and the legislatures routinely try to circumvent the Separation Clause. States where science carries less respect than NASCAR, conspiracy theories, and Bigfoot are the point of the fundamentalist spear.

Scattered throughout these same states, are billboards with a smiling baby and the ominous words, “A baby’s heartbeat starts at 21 Days!” (it is actually 22 days, and the fetus bears little resemblance to a recognizable human form.) It is about the size of a poppy seed. About the size of the period at the end of this sentence. In numbers, the size of a three-week fetus is LENGTH: 0.03 in / 0.08 cm WEIGHT: 0.002 oz / 0.06 g. (Growth Chart)

It would be nice if we put as much care and consideration into those children living in deplorable and desperate conditions as we are wont to do for those not yet born. It would seem our concern ends at birth.

I am always struck by the conservative opposition to abortion based on the “sanctity” of life, while many embrace the death penalty. As they often do, they turn to the ultimate authority (nope, not Google) but the original source of all knowledge, the Bible.

“Thus says the Lord God… “Will you profane Me… killing people who should not die, and keeping people alive who should not live…?” -Ezekiel 13:18-19

“He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord. -Proverbs 17:15 (Italics the author. Me, not the original. No one knows who that is.)

Here’s the problem. God may be infallible, the American Justice system is not.

I am struck by the number of men who see themselves as the ultimate arbiters of morality, primarily in others. While many women oppose abortion, men seem particularly fervent in their opposition. One cannot help but wonder if this is as much a sense of loss of control as it is a genuinely sincere position.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, in the year before he authored the pro-abortion Roe v. Wade opinion (which was passed by the Republican majority court), wrote in a 1972 death penalty case of his “excruciating agony of the spirit. I yield to no one in the depth of my distaste, antipathy, and, indeed, abhorrence, for the death penalty… It is antagonistic to any sense of ‘reverence for life.'”

The conflict between the two conservative positions on abortion and the death penalty cannot be starker.

Until we come to terms with the dichotomy of our willingness to risk killing an innocent person who was wrongfully convicted yet deny women the right to make their own choice, I think it best we stay away from legislating morality.

Leave women their right to choose and do not deny them the opportunity to save their lives whenever it is medically necessary. Leave medical decisions to professionals and the individuals forced to deal with them.

If you oppose abortion, don’t have one.