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.