What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Why We Have a Culture War

Okay, this is just one reason among many for the culture war, but it's an interesting one:

In the comments thread on Bill's post below commentators expressed some hesitation about my outraged comparison between a) requiring employers to make religious accommodations for Muslim checkout clerks who will not handle pizza that contains pork (even if it is wrapped) and b) not merely allowing but positively encouraging employers to fire pharmacists who will not dispense birth control pills and, indeed, requiring that all pharmacies dispense all legal drugs. The point made was that liberals consider it to be particularly important that birth control be made available.

Yes, that's true, they do. And presumably it is on that basis that they make it (or want to make it) a matter of the force of law that pharmacists must make birth control available, doctors must refer for abortions, pharmacists must dispense suicide prescriptions, etc. It's so particularly important that people get access to suicide drugs that pharmacists must not be allowed to opt out. People also should not have to look around a bit to find a counselor who is ideologically comfortable with affirming homosexual behavior. All counselors should be forced to do so as part of their training.

What is common to all of this? Just this: In all of these cases, the ideologically and morally charged nature of the activity demanded would seem by common sense to make it more understandable that people should be allowed to refuse to perform the service, dispense the drug, etc.

Common sense says that "booping" a shrink-wrapped pepperoni pizza over an electric eye is a trivial matter and that it is incredibly stupid to think that you are forbidden to do so. (In fact, small brief though I hold for Islam, I would imagine that there are even some Muslims who think this is a foolish and invented prohibition.) The clerk isn't even coming into contact with the pork. Nor are non-Muslims forbidden to eat pork, so the Muslim clerk isn't even, by his own premises, assisting the customer to do something wrong. The attempt to get out of ringing up the item thus, because of the triviality of the issue, seems plausibly to be merely a power play, an attempt (by someone, if only the people feeding "rules" to the checkout clerk) to get the stupid kuffar to show how much trouble they are willing to take to bow to alleged Muslim sensibilities.

Obviously, the issues of contraception, homosexual acts, suicide, and abortion do not fall even remotely into this same category. So why can't people be let off from participating in and enabling these things?

In our current climate, the reason is just this:

Liberal ideologues try to make the strength and universality of positive participation requirements directly proportional to the seriousness and controversial nature of the issue.

This virtually guarantees culture-war clashes, because it means that the more important some issue is, the more likely it is that people who take the view opposite to the liberal view will be forced to affirm, enable, and participate in activities that they regard as seriously wrong and even society-destroying.

It's even interesting to see the worked-up and implausible attempts to make this seem to make some sort of sense. Refusing to dispense birth control is somehow related to killing people, to licensing births, etc.? How's that again? Homosexual so-called "marriage" was just dreamed up a little while ago, but now people are just incredibly harmed if they can't have access to it and if everyone doesn't get with the program and treat it as normal. They might commit suicide if they aren't fully affirmed, so this is a matter of life and death. Then again, suicide drugs are a matter of life or death in rather another sense, but we'll find some way to break out the violins for the poor, poor people who are having trouble getting a doctor to write their suicide prescription. (Notice that this presumably means that the next step is requiring doctors to write the prescriptions.)

And so on. That all of this is just a transparent power play seems to pass many people by. The liberals themselves have had to hurry up over the last few decades, and now over the last few years, to get really outraged about all the new things they are dreaming up to force reluctant people to do. They're pretty good at it, though. But does no one among them (are there no real civil libertarians left anymore?) ever notice how artificial this is? This is the sheerest, most bare-knuckled, we're-in-charge-now-and-can-make-you-eat-dirt approach to governance. Yet, somehow, it's the conservatives who are accused of being divisive and creating the culture war. Just wait till next year and we'll see what else we have to do.

"Islam" means "submission." So, it seems, does leftism.

Comments (57)

Very well said, Lydia.

I think it shows, however, that politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. You can have pluralism, to a degree. What I mean is that pluralism within the confines of a given plausibility structure is achievable. So, you can have a country with Presbyterians, Baptists, Jews, and Catholics, and even Unitarians and atheists, but the background beliefs about family, privacy, religious liberty, etc. are not themselves challenged. For it is those beliefs that provide meaning for everything else. But what happens when the terms liberty, family, privacy, mother, father, and so forth are themselves contested? Here's what I write in my book Politics for Christians:

In Reynolds v. United States (1878), the Supreme Court rejected the Mormons’ free exercise argument on the grounds that even though “Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, . . . [it] was left free to reach actions [such as polygamy] which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.” What the Court meant by this is that certain institutions and ways of life, such as marriage and the family, are essential to the preservation of civil society. The government may craft its laws in such a way that certain practices receive a privileged position in our social fabric, and actions contrary to them should be prohibited or at least discouraged even if they have religious sanction. In order to better understand what the Court was thinking, consider this example. Imagine if each bank in the United States could print its own currency. Although each bank would be, in a sense, freer than it was when it was mandated to use only the government’s currency, in another sense, there would be less freedom. For the predictability, stability, confidence and efficiency that one currency brings to commerce would vanish. So, in this case, the freedom of individual banks would result in diminishing the common good and far less aggregate freedom. This is because an essential component for maintaining the good of the society’s infrastructure has been weakened. If you think of certain institutions (like marriage and the family) as essential components for maintaining society’s common good, as no doubt the Reynolds Court thought, you can at least understand why the Court took the position that it did, even if you don’t find yourself entirely persuaded by its reasoning.

Just as the 19th century's plausibility structure could not allow LDS polygamy, the present plausibility structure cannot allow Christian dissent on the matters of which you write. What has happened is a paradigm shift in which the old background beliefs have been discarded and replaced with new background beliefs no less or no more "tolerant" or rationally demonstrable as the old ones. But like the old ones were to their generations, these new ones seem obviously true and incapable of being contested. This is because politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. The appeal to liberty on the part of our fellow travelers will fall on deaf ears, since, as the Church once said, error has no rights. We are in error. We have no rights. It turns out, then, as many of us had always suspected, our adversaries were never really in the tolerance business. They were in the totalitarian business all along.

Ironically, this very group brings up the horrors of the inquisition at every turn - and they are the ones conducting the inquisition now.... "error has no rights", indeed.

Try pointing out the behavioral similarities of our current day leftists with the Imperial Church during the inquisition and watch the steam escape their ears.

These are the exact same human failings under a different flag.


your comparison makes sense when considering the rights of the seller. But from a customer's pov, the pepperoni is non-essential, while the lack of contraceptives will destabilize relationships and careers.

Pepperoni? Non-essential? Heresy! Now, if Muslims refused to handle anchovies I might consider them to be truly the Religion of Peace...

Children generally tend to destabilize relationships and careers, but the moral requirement to support them outweighs the fights and missed meetings that they lead to.

while the lack of contraceptives will destabilize relationships and careers.

That's pretty funny. My parents never used it and they've been married 65 years. The old man's career survived too.

Let me posit a wild fantasy of my own: relationships that depend on contraceptives to survive are already unstable.

I can't fault the Moslem for following his religious convictions. Neither can I fault the Christian for following his. The problem is that the access to contraception has become a part of the secular religion. What we really have here is a problem in applied aplogetics.

In the two cases, what is really at play is simply, "The squeeky wheel gets the grease." In the case of the pizza, one has only the handler sqeeking. The boss, being a nice guy, can let him have the concession. I imagine that similar concessions might be made, say, if a newly pregnant woman were the pizza-handler and the smell of pork suddenly made her nauseous.

In the case of the pharmacy, however, there are two squeeky wheels: the pharmacist and the contraceptor. Both feel their position to be part of a holy cause and neither one can give ground. What does one do when both sides are squeeking?

Contraception, unlike either Christianity or islam, is not an attempt to for a relationship with God. Quite the opposite. It is an attempt to run away from God. It is a religion of self. Both Christianity and Islam look to the future of the soul. Contraception only looks to the present moment.

Given the nobleness of following religion verses satisfying base instincts, one would think that any reasonable person would follow the noble path. Alas, what has let the pizza guy and the contraceptor both win is the threat of force. The pizza guy is using force in the name of religion, the contraceptor is using force in the name of self. The only guy who doesn't get to use force is the Christian. He must turn the other cheek. Indeed, these two situations show the difference between power and authority. The Christian has authority on his side, the contrceptos has power.

The contraceptors will eventually lose because they simply will die out. Until then, they will make life difficult for health care workers and educators. Contraceptors never stay around for good argumentation. We never had a reall debate on contraception and abortion in this country. The Supreme Court raided the game.

The Chicken

Sorry for all of the misspellings. I have grown attached to my spell-checker. Bad commentor, bad...

Timon, I understand that customers may consider it more important to get contraception than to get pepperoni. But customers should understand why (and that) it is more important to sellers to refuse contraception than to refuse pepperoni. Customers also may consider lots of things important that sellers may understandably refuse to sell. For example, drug addicts can be _extremely_ demanding, to the point that in England I was recently reading how frightened some doctors are of dealing with them. My point is not to say that contraception is the equivalent of heroin but to say that it is extremely weird to make, "Customers really, really want this and think it's important to their lives" some sort of excuse for having a _law_ that people have to sell it!

It gets even weirder when we consider how much leftists usually hate the free market. But now customer demand is supposed to mean that we force every pharmacy to sell it?

Again, we need to back up and get a perspective here: The leftists passing these laws and defending them have to _know_ that people can still get this stuff even if everyone isn't forced to sell it. It should be obvious to intelligent people that the requirement isn't really about access. It's about power. _Why_ was ABC so obviously outraged that more people weren't like that feminist harridan and that some of them actually supported the pharmacist? If you can't see that it was purely a matter of ideological control, you aren't looking. The nun told the girl to go somewhere else, and ABC smirked about it. They didn't get the point: The nun was asking the girl why she didn't stop hassling this particular pharmacist. It's a legitimate question, but it's one that the proponents of "access" never deign to ask. Their picture of a world in which people can't get contraception is a ploy to justify forcing every single person to cooperate, on the grounds that it is the "right" of the customer to walk into any pharmacy in the country and fill that particular prescription. What arrogance.

But from a customer's pov, the pepperoni is non-essential, while the lack of contraceptives will destabilize relationships and careers.

So will their inability to find an abortion clinic if the contraceptives fail. If they can't find someone to take the baby off their hands after it's born, well, to save their relationships and careers they might have to just throw it in a dumpster.

"Homosexual so-called "marriage" was just dreamed up a little while ago, but now people are just incredibly harmed if they can't have access to it and if everyone doesn't get with the program and treat it as normal."

This, it seems to me, is a crucial point and it has clear paralells with some of the recent pro-abortion literature. Liberals have relentlessly defined-down the notion of "injustice" to the point that relatively trivial impediments to "self actualization" and "autonomy" are now treated as grave personal harms. This "defining down" tendancy happens in other places as well. Witness the claim that, even if the fetus *is* a person, the woman has a right to terminate her pregnancy because it's just "too much to ask" of her to demand that she bring it term and thereby inconvenience her precious "life projects." Thus, women simply cannot be *reasonably expected* not to kill their babies even though it is the natural and inevitable consequence of sexual activity. But, as Thompson and others point out, "who wants to live in a house without windows?" e.g. bringing unwanted babies to term and not having sex if you don't want a baby have been tacitly reclassified as "supererogatory" moral acts and it is now "asking too much" to suggest that people do it. The bottom line is that we are a society of selfish and pampered individuals who can no longer tolerate even trivial inconveniences. And large swaths of current moral and political philosophy serve to reinforce and rationalize this selfishness.

Lydia, your last line; > "islam" means submission. So, it seems, does leftism.
I won't allow myself to suspect that this has just occurred to you.
A favorite trope is the one "the world is made up of two kinds of people," complete with your own formula.
Well most assuredly the world is made up of those who mind their own potty lives and those tormented souls who realize that the answers to life's dilemmas reside within their breasts.
But really what counts is the force used to enact those artificially created chimera's, progress & reform, your samples a prime example of what crawls into our lives in their name.
After all if the rest of the world needs a knock on the head once in a while, and your auto mechanic has just told you to go to hell, who better to do it then your psychic partner, the federal government.
It's the force, not the goals, the results, who cares?

But from a customer's pov, the pepperoni is non-essential, while the lack of contraceptives will destabilize relationships and careers.

Relationships? Well, at least you were honest enough not to specifically use marriage. Relationships break up all the time, sometimes for very trivial reasons.

And careers? Indeed, a career is more important than a relationship. But is a career more important than a marriage? Is career more important than a family? The answer to both, I would hope, is no. But that is not the direction the culture is taking.

It used to be that marriage was a life long union between a man and woman and for most marriages the primary purpose of marriage was to have a family. The career or the job served the marriage and family.

But the economics changed. Children were no longer seen as blessings, but as economic burdens. It seemed necessary (necessary?!?) to control the procreative aspect of sex.

The Pill was the liberator against traditional sexual mores. Fornication and adultery are no longer risky. But unfortunately, the Pill has never been 100% effective. But certain types of abortion are 100% effective. The expectation is one of sex without consequences.

In a world of "sex without consequences," sexual gratification becomes the highest goal. Sex no longer need be between a man and a woman. Let nothing stand in the way of this idol, this new god.

Currently, consent seems to be the minimum requirement, but I doubt that this is really a concern. If a marriage and family can be broken up for the sake of an adulterous relationship, then why shouldn't lies be acceptable to obtain "consent"?

Stable relationships aren't really part of the new paradigm. For even now, the expectation in "friends with benefits" is that emotional commitments be removed from sex. "Sex without consequences" has reached a new plateau.

To serve this new god, Sex Without Consequences, we must dull the consciences of all. Christian doctors must perform abortions. Christian pharmacists must provide contraceptives. And Christian counselors must affirm the homosexual acts of their patients. Christian professors cannot believe that homosexual acts are disordered, nor can the rest of the population, for all Christians are required to offer sacrifice to the new god, Sex Without Consequences, by recognizing Same Sex Marriage as a positive good.

Indeed, one can lose their career for not affirming the new god, Sex Without Consequences.

So we see. Careers aren't that important. Relationships aren't that important. Sex Without Consequences --> that's what is important in the brave new world.

Many good comments here. As usual, Untenured's comments are spot-on.

One thing I sometimes wonder: This business of "inconvenience equals injustice" is obviously applied selectively. My inconvenience in finding modest clothes for my daughters is not considered to be an injustice. The inconvenience of going to a store without having Cosmopolitan's sex tips in one's face is not considered an injustice. And so on. Would it be helpful or unhelpful if liberals would just admit that they have their own arbitrary set of acts and preferences--usually related to sex or death--that are sacred, and that it is any inconvenience in carrying out these acts or having these preferences approved by society, but not others, that they will treat as injustice? Or would such an admission make no practical difference to anyone?

I don't support legal abc, but it has been normalized to the point that marriage is optional and the arena of sexual responsibility and child-rearing (now family planning) is the use of contraception. People cannot really opt out of the contraception culture.

What do major corporations and drug companies think of this law? Why should we think this is strictly liberal philosophy, and not big business demanding obedience?

People cannot really opt out of the contraception culture.

I don't even know what that means. You mean (if she had been real instead of fictional) the girl in the video was _compelled_ to have sex before marriage and to take pills in order to do so? So you don't believe in free will, or what?

As for what the major drug companies think of it, they may well like it, but that's not the ones we hear about lobbying for this kind of thing. It's the feminist activists who yell about "access."

"People cannot really opt out of the contraception culture."

Just like some people cannot really opt out of moral theology they claim to know is true. Apparently, "orgasm" is the new beatific vision.

It means there is such a thing as social responsibility. Contraception has replaced marriage. That gives government the responsibility of ensuring fair and equal access, just as it does for that antiquated thing called marriage.

"It means there is such a thing as social responsibility. Contraception has replaced marriage. That gives government the responsibility of ensuring fair and equal access, just as it does for that antiquated thing called marriage."

A couple of problems with your comments.

How can "contraception" replace marriage? So, instead of committing myself to another person in a permanent bond, I buy a condom? That does not seem like a fair trade. And government is supposed to make sure that that deal is equitably distributed? (Gotta love it; we've gone from "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to "lust, libido, and the pursuit of horniness." Is that an improvement?)

This is a joke, right? You actually believe that rubbers and hormones "replace" marriage. This is nihilism with a money shot.

It means there is such a thing as social responsibility.

I'm not seeing the social responsibility. Where did the responsibility go? Or where is it coming from?

For that matter, even before the sexual revolution, did government have the "responsibility" to ensure equal access to marriage? What in the world could that even mean? Lots of people wanted to get married who didn't--maybe nobody asked them! There are some major missing premises in this argument.

Hi Lydia!

I think you’re right that it’s about arbitrary preferences, in the sense that there is no unique set of preferences which is demonstrably superior. But why should liberals only admit this? The problem for everyone is how to navigate within a democratic society where some see just pork or a biscuit and others see an unholy abomination or a consecrated wafer.

Still, compared to the pepperoni-handling case, safeguarding pharmacists’ conscience rights looks like a more dubious business to me: Who would think that a woman needs to be married to have her period regulated, so that contraceptive pills should only be dispensed to under or over 16-year-olds on production of a marriage certificate? Pharmacists apparently need to be able to second-guess the clinical judgment of medical practitioners, or to verify the intentions of married males to use Viagra to have sex with their wives exclusively, which sounds absurd.

Re modest apparel for women, perhaps you’re prepared to acknowledge the wisdom of Afghan burkhas - on top of whatever the current fashion is.

Yeah, very dubious. Letting people get out of handling pepperoni is obviously way more important. And of course, everyone in that pharmacy thought it plausible that the girl was just going to use the birth control pills to regulate her period and that the boyfriend was just coming along because he cared about her so much and would then go and sit holding hands to make her feel better about her unregulated periods. That's obviously what the feminist woman thought who talked to her about how she was "empowering herself." Give me a break. Everybody involved, _especially_ the ABC people who set the whole thing up, knew that this was about her "freedom of choice" to have sex without the involvement of her parents and without being married. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous. Indeed, feminist arguments for the need to make contraception available assume the contrary--it is supposedly discriminatory against women not to provide it because contraception makes them more equal with men in the ability to have sexual intercourse without pregnancy.

Re modest apparel for women, perhaps you’re prepared to acknowledge the wisdom of Afghan burkhas - on top of whatever the current fashion is.

So the choice is (a) dress provocatively or (b) adopt the burkha. Nice jackass comment there.

We expect such comments from "Overseas." Sigh.

The unconvincing nonsense about people who are using this or that medication for reasons that the pharmacist could not possibly object to raises, of course, an interesting option that liberals never consider or that they think beneath contempt: The pharmacist could be treated like a person and a professional in his own right instead of a dispensing machine. One could _explain_ to him that this prescription is to control symptoms that are otherwise debilitating and not for any other purpose. That, after all, is presumably some part of the conversation that took place with the doctor. But then the pharmacist might or might not believe you, and in any event, the idea is that he has a _duty_ to act like a dispensing machine and to have no concern otherwise in the use of his professional credentials and activities.

I was thinking of the social responsibility of the pharmacist, to defend a civilization dependent on contraception. But of course people could be more generous and find another pharmacist (in most areas). That would be a great, if drastic, improvement on the national character. I wouldn't support it in this case, since I think abc should be outlawed.

OTOH, perhaps what I view as a demand for social responsibility is just the marxists, having accomplished the welfare state as far as possible (to each according to his need) are kicking in the other part for the kill (from each according to his ability). I hear Obama wants mandatory welfare service.


Where’s ‘that’ pharmacy you’re talking about? I’m just pointing out an asymmetry between (a) not handling pork, and (b) doing whatever the conscientious objector working in the pharmacy may not want to do. I made no claims about comparative importance.

I’m not aware of any controversy as to whether pepperoni contains pork. But an objecting pharmacist cannot know whether to object or not without having access to the prescribing doctors and/or patient’s intentions/circumstances. A pharmacist would have to interview both the prescribing doctor and the patient in order to determine whether to appeal to some conscientious objection clause or not. So the claim is that it’s much more difficult to determine if the conscientious objection circumstances obtain in the case of dispensing medicine compared to delivering pizza; so much so that it’s unreasonable to expect a dispensing chemist to seek to establish if the circumstances obtain.

j. Christian

Evidently, we have a different sense of humour!

j. Christian

Oh, you probably share Lydia's sense of humour! So I must be in the minority.

"How can "contraception" replace marriage?"


Can you really ask this in the face of shotgun contraception? Can we tell the difference between what is a joke and what is merely funny?

here's a non-analagous example:
when Jesus tells a parable of an employer who is generous to all workers, that is a joke. when he asks the Pharisees if John was a true prophet, that was merely funny.

A pharmacist would have to interview both the prescribing doctor and the patient in order to determine whether to appeal to some conscientious objection clause or not.

No. The pharmacist could make a reasonable induction, one that the advocates of contraception themselves consider to be justified, and could make a prudential policy decision based on that reasonable induction. Just as, for example, I might decide in a certain circumstance not to give someone money, without interviewing him, if I had good inductive evidence that he was likely to misuse it. If the person perceives that I am making that induction, he can, if he wants to do so, try to convince me that I'm wrong, but that's his decision.

(The pharmacy in question is the one in the video in Bill Luse's post. Not a single person told a single person in that situation, "Hey, he didn't ask her if she was going to be having unmarried sex. How does he know it's not just for regulating her periods?" That would have been laughable. Everyone in the situation on all sides knew it was about sex.)

In fact, the video seems to go out of its way to make sure everyone knew it was about sex. The pharmacist told the girl he wouldn't prescribe b/c he did not agree with her having premarital sex, and the girl never denied that was what she wanted the pills for.

This virtually guarantees culture-war clashes, because it means that the more important some issue is, the more likely it is that people who take the view opposite to the liberal view will be forced to affirm, enable, and participate in activities that they regard as seriously wrong and even society-destroying.

I, a citizen of the United States of America, do solemnly swear, affirm, and enable all that is unholy and immoral in the name of Tolerance, Non-Judgmentalism, and the Right to an Orgasm. I submit to the will of her judges and their wise decisions to strike down my votes. Prop. 8 is dead; long live marriage equality.


Thanks for clarifying the ‘pharmacy’ scenario. Of course, it is still possible in such a case that the prescribing physician wrote out the prescription for regulating the girl’s periods. There is no way of knowing definitively if this is the case or not without reference to the physician. And I doubt that the physician is at liberty to divulge that information to a third party anyway.

So are you suggesting that the objecting pharmacist should go ahead and kick in the objection clause if the patient simply refuses to discuss her condition with the pharmacist, or even merely on the grounds that the patient might seek to take advantage of side-benefits to a prescription for period regulation? It sounds unethical/an overkill to me.

What I find interesting is that the pharmacist is presumably not bothered about coming into contact with a certain substance ipso facto, like in the pepperoni case: It’s what other people may do with that substance that seems to be of concern, and I don’t quite understand exactly why or how. I can’t see e.g. how a pharmacist could ever make sure that a guy currying a prescription for Viagra won’t sleep with anyone but his wife, or why the pharmacist will be responsible if the patient cheats on her.

I've been thinking about Huxley's, Brave New Word. I think these quotes could serve as captions for the video:

"Till at last the child's mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child's mind. And not the child's mind only. The adult's mind too-all his life long. The mind that judges and desire and decides-made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions... Suggestions from the State."
- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Ch. 2

"Civilization is sterilization."
- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Ch. 7

"We are not our own any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves, we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We are not our own masters. We are God's property. Is it not our happiness thus to view the matter? Is it any happiness or any comfort, to consider that we are our own? It may be thought so by the young and prosperous. These may think it a great thing to have everything, as they suppose, their own way–to depend on no one–to have to think of nothing out of sight, to be without the irksomeness of continual acknowledgment, continual prayer, continual reference of what they do to the will of another. But as time goes on, they, as all men, will find that independence was not made for man–that it is an unnatural state–will do for a while, but will not carry us on safely to the end."
- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Ch. 17

The Chicken

Brave New World :( I'm not a bad speller, just a lousy typist.

The Chicken

Overseas, I didn't say that the pharmacist _should_ do that but that it could well be understandable and ethical for him to do so and that he should not be coerced by law to do otherwise. We all make these sorts of decisions frequently. Some people, for example, boycott products made in a certain country. Some people give to one charity rather than another, because they believe their money will be better used there. Police decide when to write a ticket or give a warning. Parents decide whether to pay for something a child (including an adult child) asks for. One might not give money to one beggar who (one has reason to believe) will simply buy a fix with it but instead to another beggar who (one has reason to believe) will try to help himself or at least use it to buy food rather than drugs. And so on and so forth. All day, every day, we are deciding whether or not a certain act will be misused by another, whether our time, effort, money, etc., are better spent in this way or that, when we will or will not be actively enabling wrong-doing. That's part of being free adults with ethical concerns. And all the more so if we belong to a special profession with special responsibilities. The pharmacist should be allowed the dignity of that decision-making power in his work and not be treated like a robot.

It's anecdotal and slightly off-topic, but I have had women tell me how doctors have prescribed birth control pills as a sort of panacea for all sort of women's problems. Often, it turned out that some other medicine worked (including making one woman's cycle regular).

There seems to be some sort of intellectual or professional laziness at play here. I wonder if someone has done a study on the over-prescribing of birth control pills as a treatment.

TMC writes:

The contraceptors will eventually lose because they simply will die out. Until then, they will make life difficult for health care workers and educators. Contraceptors never stay around for good argumentation.

I worry this encourages a complacent mentality.

Those who don't have children reproduce by proselytism. The fewer children they have, the more vigorous they must proselytize. That's one reason the drive to compulsion is so strong.

I'll also repeat my idea that our society can't tolerate doubts about contraception, fornication etc. because then the whole edifice crumbles as the gross negligence becomes clear.

Right, Lydia. But which working person should not ‘be allowed the dignity of that decision-making power in his work’? Assuming you’re referring to the exercise of professional discretion that is. In the case of pharmacists though there is no power to second-guess a practitioner of the medical profession, is there? The decision is the prescribing physician's, who is moreover prohibited from discussing the case with the pharmacist. Patients are of course under no obligation to divulge medical conditions to third parties, in public places and within earshot of other clients! Are you suggesting that a pharmacist serving a paying customer is engaging in an act of charity, and should be exempt from regulation?

A check-out employee at a supermarket could be an objector too, and so require production of a marriage certificate before scanning those condoms. Of course the marriage certificate is no guarantee that the purchaser will only have sex with the named spouse, so perhaps the customer ought to be made to sign a sworn statement to that effect also. Why not? Are there any more uses of condoms than of contraceptive pills? I find it remarkable that nobody seems to bother about ‘free adults with ethical concerns’ in so many more outlets than just pharmacies where condoms can be freely purchased by anyone without a prescription.

So I’m unconvinced about objectors’ rights: It cannot be ascertained whether what they’re objecting to obtains or not, or what’s their moral responsibility if it does. And privileging the rights of pharmacists over the rights of supermarket staff (a) effectively results in sexual discrimination against females, in terms of access to prescribed medicines, and (b) ensures men continue to enjoy unfettered access to non-prescription contraceptives. What a mess!

Are you suggesting that a pharmacist serving a paying customer is engaging in an act of charity, and should be exempt from regulation?

I'm saying, not suggesting, that regulation should not require that the store sell/stock the item. I'm not necessarily saying that the employer should not have the power to fire the pharmacist as an employee, though I do think it's absurd that the employers at Target should not have (or think they don't have) the power to fire the Muslim employees for refusing to scan the pizzas.

Using one's qualifications, etc., as a pharmacist should, yes, be exempt from the type of "regulation" that requires one to automatically fill any physician prescription. It's a free act, in a number of cases a morally charged act, and to be exercised as such.

I don't care tuppence about the "discrimination against women" nonsense. If stores don't want to stock/sell condoms, they don't have to do that either. Nobody is (yet) proposing a law requiring them to do so. Whether functionally more people are likely to refuse to stock/sell contraceptive pills than condoms and whether this somehow will have a greater negative net effect on women's ability to get the contraception they prefer than on men's of no interest to me whatsoever.

Kevin Jones, I entirely agree about the dangers of complacency. This is why I think home schooling is so important. Christians have been reproducing for a generation and calmly sending their children off to the public schools to be turned into agents of all that they oppose. Recruitment works.

Most birth control pills -- probably all today -- act to prevent *implantation*, not *conception*. (The earliest pills actually prevented ovulation, so they did prevent conception.) In other words, they are designed to kill a newly conceived human being. IUDs of course do the same, and "morning-after" chemicals are designed for that purpose: they kill newly conceived human beings.

Condoms, as far as I understand, don't have this effect; they prevent *conception* (when they work).

Pepperoni never killed anyone that I've heard of (sans severe allergy).

I might not *want* to sell condoms to people, but I am not participating in murder if I do so. Certainly not many people believe that prevention of *conception* is a grave moral sin (I realize that some do), and I am not sure that there is necessarily a need to refuse to sell birth control on *those* grounds -- though I would never *demand* that any pharmacy or store carry any kind of birth control at all; the pharmacy/store owner can make that decision, just as he can decide whether to stock pepperoni pizza or not, or soy milk or sugar-free products or anything else or not. It's his business to run as he sees fit and to determine what financial risks he's willing to take through his decisions, and how his principles will influence his business practices.

But since almost all birth control other than condoms -- all prescribed birth control, in other words -- works by killing a newly conceived human being, it is *clearly* a grave evil to *legally require* that anyone participate in any way in such an action.

And yes, I agree that easy access to the pill has been mostly an unmitigated evil for our culture, and that there can be broader reasons for not wishing to sell these products. But I'm just making a distinction here that shows what I think is a very compelling reason that people should not be legally required to participate in selling prescribed birth control products: it's participation in the deaths of newly conceived human beings, whether within or without the bonds of marriage -- and no one should be forced into that participation.

As for the prescription of birth control pills for actual medical reasons (I had to use them for a time for good reason), I guarantee you there will never be a dearth of places to get the prescription filled. I live in a very small town and there are at least 4 places right here in town to buy prescriptions, with a hundred more within a 30-minute drive and quite easy to get mail delivery from many places. The likelihood that *none* of these places will stock what you need is nil.

To clarify my above comment to Overseas: There are two issues--one is the law which requires that all pharmacists fill all prescriptions. There is the possibility/probability that a pharmacy that employs a pharmacist would fire him if he refused to fill certain prescriptions, even without any law requiring them to fill those prescriptions. The former is just plain wrong, even evil, and now has implications for suicide as well as contraception. It is a perfect illustration of my point in the main post. It is the use of the power of the state to obliterate even passive resistance to that which the state deems holy--such as contraception and suicide. As for the second, I would support much more widespread discretion than is currently allowed on the prat of employers as to when to accommodate employee's moral or religious objections. The rather sickening irony is that when it comes to trivial matters, employers are _required_ to accommodate their employees' views, even to the point of seriously disrupting business (as in the case of a Nebraska meat packer that employed many Muslim Somali workers and nearly had to shut down at sunset every day in Ramadan because all the Muslim workers demanded a prayer break at the same time). But when it comes to matters where it is particularly understandable that an employee should have moral objections and where it makes, at least, plenty of sense for employers to accommodate these, the employers are _not allowed to accommodate them_. We thus have the worst of both worlds. As long as we do have laws requiring employer accommodation of employee religious views, pharmacists should be covered in these situations. If we faced a realistic possibility of repealing all such laws and leaving the matter to be worked out prudentially between employer and employee as free, mature, and rational agents, I would be open to considering that, though it seems to me that the employer _ought_ to accommodate the pharmacist employee in the case of dispensing contraception, and all the more so in the case of the unmarried minor in the video.

TMC writes:

The contraceptors will eventually lose because they simply will die out. Until then, they will make life difficult for health care workers and educators. Contraceptors never stay around for good argumentation.

I worry this encourages a complacent mentality.

It was not my intention to comment on the psychological effects, only the demographic effects. In any case, no matter how many converts they make, the end result will be zero in the limit.

People opposed to contraception can win the argument simply by having many children and training them in the truth. Public schools in my day were different than public schools, today. Perhaps it is just me, but it seemed like most of my peers and I were much more innocent in high school than today's youths. Things have gone down hill rapidly in the last few decades.

One problem with homeschooled children that I have seen, firsthand, is that they do not really have much of a concept of evil or temptation. When they encounter the recruiter's (and they will meet them), they don't have the protection they should have. If one is homeschooling, make sure the children are made aware of both sides of the issues and make sure they know how to refute bad arguments.

The Chicken

TMC, probably you already know this, but the reason that today's high schoolers are less innocent than yesterday's (one non-negligible reason) is that they are having their innocence deliberately destroyed by the recruiters who have them as a captive audience. Don't look up the material GLSEN has been allowed to bring into public schools unless you have a strong stomach. And don't say I didn't warn you. The attack on innocence is _extremely_ deliberate and well-orchestrated.


It’s not just about ‘women's ability to get the contraception they prefer’ - though women are indeed far more dependent on prescription contraception compared to men: It’s about women getting access to prescription medication. It is a fact that a woman who’s been prescribed the contraceptive pill for reasons unrelated to contraception will get contraceptive coverage as a ‘side effect’ if she’s heterosexual and sexually active, which she may or may not be. But why should a woman whose sexual lifestyle a pharmacist may frown upon - like the unmarried minor in the video - be denied medication prescribed to her for an unrelated condition? I’m surprised you seem unperturbed by this.

It is also a fact that a man who’s been prescribed Viagra will be able to have sex with any man or woman he pleases. The question is, are these facts sufficient grounds for pharmacists to appeal to conscience clauses, and why? How could a pharmacist claim responsibility for the decisions of doctors, the rationale for which the pharmacist has no right to establish and is unqualified to second-guess, or for the future actions of patients? I still fail to see how acting like a bouncer at a night club ('face-control') might enhance a pharmacist’s professional standing. Or why non-pharmacists dispensing contraceptives have any lesser entitlement to their ‘moral views’: Shop owners who do stock condoms may well object to check-out staff requiring marriage certificates and sworn statements from customers before scanning them!

Compared to the above, accommodating Muslims who object to handling pepperoni pizzas is a piece of cake. So I’m suggesting that the reason why pork-aversion seems to be taken better care of compared to the nebulous concerns of pharmacists could be merely pragmatic: It’s because it’s ‘trivial’ that pork aversion can be accommodated. Pharmacists’ concerns seem to be as elusive and intangible as are the proposed remedies! Someone suggested above that the contraceptive pill is treated like a panacea; if it’s indeed over-prescribed, then so much the worse for ‘objecting’ pharmacists: They must be acting in bad faith.

And whether you care tuppence about it or not, it is also a fact that women would be disproportionately hit by such proposals, which is sufficient to establish ‘indirect discrimination’ in law; you may not like the law, but employers know there are costs to defying it. So there are alternative, more mundane explanations for the apparent asymmetry. And incidentally, Christian workers too demand a prayer break at the same time; it just usually falls on a Sunday!

Hi Beth!

Thanks. I accept that your argument goes some way towards establishing an asymmetry between dispensing prescription contraception as against condoms; it involves however some highly controversial premises, albeit no marriage certificates!

I’m surprised you seem unperturbed by this.

I'm unperturbed by the possibility. For one thing, having an unregulated period isn't going to kill anybody, and having an unregulated period for a few more hours or even a couple of days while you find another pharmacy is scarcely going to be a problem at all. There are plenty of far more serious things that might or might not be easily available to people--e.g., milk substitutes for people with lactose intolerance. I just don't get worked up over these possibilities. The invocation of supposed large numbers of people who just get contraception as a side effect is, frankly, disingenuous, because it is untrue to the facts as they are in the real world, including in the video that started the discussion. A pharmacist who objected to the use of contraception qua contraception, who objected to the enabling of premarital sex, who objected to the enabling of minors' premarital sex, or all of the above, could certainly be morally justified in refusing to dispense contraception in many or all circumstances. And the bare possibility that some girl would have a little more trouble getting oral hormones to control her PMS symptoms doesn't faze me in the least.

As for "disparate impact," obviously, the refusal to grant conscience protection in employment for those who object to dispensing contraception will have disparate impact on people of certain religions, and religious discrimination is also against the law. So, again, you have to choose which disparate impact you care more about. Don't pretend that your result drops out of non-discrimination law, because it most certainly doesn't.

Overseas, I presume by "highly controversial premises" you mean whether or not a "fertilized egg" is a newly conceived human being. I do not find this controversial at all; science is on my side. The question is a political one; at what point do we allow the killing of innocent life? I say never, and I say that anyone who agrees with me should never be forced to choose between a career as a pharmacist or a doctor and his aversion to murder.

My argument, of course, was highly circumscribed to take in only the effect of participation in murder. I actually fully agree with Lydia and others who say that a pharmacist who believes he is participating in other grave evils by dispensing birth control should not be forced to do so. I just wanted to make the point about participation in grave evil in the most obvious way I could, by using the example of killing innocent human beings.


I think you structured your argument exactly right, and presented it at its most effective. (See below.)

Yes, the moral status of fertilised eggs is an issue for many people even if you’re not one of them.


You mentioned a law which requires that ‘all pharmacists fill all prescriptions’. I take it it’s binding on the pharmacists themselves rather than the pharmacies they work in. Still, if there’s a religion that prohibits a pharmacist to handle or hand-out any contraceptives of a certain sort (call it ‘Beth’s scenario’), I agree that the issue could be dealt in good will in a large enough establishment by ensuring that there’s always another pharmacist on duty who is not bound by that religion, to whom patients carrying the 'offensive' prescriptions can be referred.

What I find objectionable is for the pious pharmacist - whom the employer strives to accommodate - not to refer the patient to a colleague but rather seek to establish for oneself if she’s menstruating normally/is sexually active/how old she is/if she can produce a marriage certificate etc, and then either hand her the medicine or kick her out accordingly! This is an embarrassment.

Screening the substances one meddles with is one thing.

I take it it’s binding on the pharmacists themselves rather than the pharmacies they work in.

It is binding on the pharmacies they work in insofar as those pharmacies are not permitted to accommodate their beliefs. And of course the way in which it is binding on the pharmacies themselves becomes evident when one considers a situation in which the pharmacist himself owns the business. The law in effect requires that the pills be provided by the pharmacies, even if the pharmacy owner/employer is happy or even eager to permit the pharmacist not to be involved in it.

Moreover, contra your above implication regarding the law, there is as far as I know _no_ precedent that burdens a supplier of some substance to continue to provide it if ceasing to provide it would have a disproportionate effect female _customers_. That would have to fall under the public accommodations aspects of non-discrimination law, and I know of no such general application of public accommodations laws--e.g., that a store must not cease to sell cosmetics, as this would have a disproportionately negative effect on female customers. On the other hand, there is plenty of law on the side of requiring employers to make a reasonable accommodation of their employees' religious beliefs. Only in this case, they aren't even allowed to. The "it's just the law" ploy simply won't work here. The pharmacist law is a glaring legal exception to the usual law on these kinds of matters, and it has all the obvious marks of sheer force over rational attempts to live together and accommodate different beliefs, as per the main post.

b) ensures men continue to enjoy unfettered access to non-prescription contraceptives. What a mess!

Umm, only men are allowed to buy condoms?!?

And, to be delicate about it, doesn't the purchase of the condom, whether by male or female, achieve the goal of both?

And now that I think about it, there would not be as much of a disparate impact on females wrt the pill as a contraceptive b/c again, the male (who is at least an equally intended beneficiary of its use as a contraceptive) would also be deprived of it.


I’m not sure the law entails that pharmacies are ‘not permitted’ to accommodate pharmacists’ beliefs. As long as there’s at least one person in the establishment to provide the legal service, there’s leeway to accommodate a variety of attitudes. I can see the problem with pious solo pharmacists, but what numbers are we talking about? Was there ever a time when pharmacists were able to pick and choose which medicines to dispense when, and how did physicians feel about it? I don’t know when the law was passed, so that pharmacists may claim they didn’t know what they were getting into, but I suspect that any calls for reform would soon turn into power struggles among the ‘allied professions’ in the first instance.

Just because Muslim employees don’t need to handle pork, doesn’t mean it’s time to unleash a novel pharmacist-doctor-policeman hybrid profession into the world! There’re just too many dysanalogies between the two examples to make comparison useful, and I find it problematic to capture the kind of ‘conditional objection’ you seem to have in mind within anything resembling the current framework; unless you envisage some anarchist utopia where people are free to dream-up their own job descriptions, refuse to serve people for any reason and get sacked for this or no reason! My reference to the law was probably clumsy, but that’s what I meant.

I’m not sure how ‘rational’ we can be in accommodating people’s religious beliefs, if these are humanity’s entitlement to irrationality. But as you said there must be Muslims/Jews who think the pork prohibition is silly. And I liked Beth’s argument about opposition to ‘killing innocent babies’ because it’s clean-cut and involves screening the prescription rather than the patient; of course the argument collapses the moment the pharmacist decides to hand out the medicine after all, e.g. on catching sight of a wedding ring on the patient’s hand.

Hi c matt!

The purchase of condoms per se won’t necessarily achieve anyone’s goals except the sellers!

But I'm aware of a single use for condoms, though I may lack imagination. The contraceptive pill is prescribed to young girls, who may be sexually active or inactive, for reasons having nothing to do with contraception. In the ‘unmarried minor’ scenario we just don’t know. Does the fact that a patient may be sexually active constitute a reason to deprive her of prescribed medicine?

I’m not sure what it means for a male ‘to be deprived’ of the contraceptive pill: The boyfriend can get his condom supplies anywhere, anytime, no questions asked. He could get them right there in that same pharmacy! He can still go on to have ‘safe sex’ with her. So the effect of the pharmacist’s refusal is merely to deprive the girl of medicine prescribed by her physician.

See, C. Matt, Overseas' pretense in this conversation is that there is a plethora of women out there who need contraceptive pills for totally non-contraceptive, but serious, medical reasons, and that the serious concern in all of this is helping them. And supposedly a pharmacist cannot possibly be epistemically justified (by, like, induction maybe?) in thinking that they are obtaining the pills for, you know, what most people buy contraceptive pills for rather than one of these medical conditions. In fact, despite the _whole premise_ of the video, she wants to talk like that's the problem with what the pharmacist did in the video.

You can stop laughing now.

Overseas, the reason that the store isn't allowed to accommodate the pharmacist's conscience is that all pharmacists are covered by the law. So all pharmacies must require all their pharmacists to dispense all legal medicines. This is actually pretty straightforward.


Always glad to put a smile on people’s faces!

As I said I may lack imagination, but I can only think of one reason why a man would use a condom or take Viagra. I have no idea what the percentage of prescriptions for the contraceptive pill are issued to sexually active women for contraceptive purposes - do you? - but someone mentioned anecdotal evidence that the pill is over-prescribed; it’s certainly prescribed to 11-year-olds. On probabilistic grounds, therefore, the patient who comes in with the Viagra prescription is much more likely to engage in sexual activity compared to the patient carrying the contraceptive pill prescription.

Is the pharmacist morally responsible for the subsequent sexual behaviour of customers? I can’t see how the pharmacist will be to blame if the Viagra user cheats on his wife or the pill user on her husband. But there are certainly many more patients who will engage in sex after they have Viagra dispensed to them compared to the contraceptive pill! So, there are stronger inductive grounds for the pious pharmacist to object to filling Viagra prescriptions compared to pill prescriptions.

Remember that one view is that contraception is wrong even within marriage.

In any event, all that your going on and on about Vi*gra shows is that a pharmacist might have conscientious objections to being involved with more than one drug. Whether the drug was one such would depend upon both empirical considerations (e.g. the probability that a person filling it was likely to use it to enable immoral behavior) and moral considerations. Dispensing it would be a decision that could legitimately involve such concerns. But I already knew that this isn't just about birth control pills. Indeed, that was one of the main points of my post--I mentioned particular doses of particular drugs and/or directions to the patient that would indicate to a pharmacist that they were going to be used for suicide. I mentioned a number of things. Of course this isn't just about contraceptive pills. This is about the general insistence that everyone must be involved in helping and that no one must be inconvenienced with regard to these types of activities. Societal approval and normalization must be total.


I do remember that one view is that contraception is wrong even within marriage: This is why I claim you’d be on stronger grounds if you sought to secure ‘conscience rights’ for the pious check-out clerk scanning condoms than for the pharmacist dispensing Viagra, let alone the pill. As c matt points out, all it takes for a couple to have not just sex but ‘safe sex’ is a condom, which is available without a prescription. Therefore, recognition of pharmacists’ ‘conscience rights’ is entirely beside the point in this respect: Objecting pharmacists could only deprive patients of access to medicine prescribed by physicians, not of access to ‘safe sex’.

But there’s a whole plank of the argument missing: It’s not blindingly self-evident that check-out clerks or pharmacists are morally responsible if, say, condom or Viagra users sleep with people they’re not married to. So I still fail to make out exactly what the pious objectors’ concern is, or how it could be alleviated. I’ve not seen so far a coherent statement of the problem.

You’re right that your post went much wider than just the pill. I don’t know how we came to focus on pious pharmacists, which proves to be a blind alley, and when there are clearly stronger inductive arguments for concentrating on pious check-out clerks scanning condoms. But if the status quo diverges from a state of affairs which cannot be coherently articulated nor shown to be a solution to any concrete or credible concern, since we hit reductio after reductio, how can this be said to be the ‘fault’ of liberal rather than conservative ideology? If you’re no friend of liberalism I bet you can find better grounds for complaint.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.