January 2013 Archives
January 2, 2013
Clash of cultures and innocent pawns
In the past two weeks the Russian Duma and President Putin have carried out an act so bad, and so brazen, that doing that thing and admitting one is doing it for that reason would be inconceivable in American politics today. I hold no brief for American Democrat politicians; indeed, I consider them to be my cultural enemies and capable of all manner of evil and cynical behavior. But I will venture to say that not a single Democrat currently in either house of Congress would openly give the reason for an act which undeniably harms orphans that has been openly and proudly given by Putin and other supporters of the bill they have just passed. American pols would know that such a reason would not play in Peoria, or anywhere else, for that matter.
In case you haven't heard the story, here's a short version: The U.S. Congress recently passed a law known as the Magnitsky Act. It attempts to prevent Russians who have allegedly been complicit in gross human rights violations from coming to the U.S. or using the U.S. banking system, and it involves freezing their assets if they attempt to do so. There are specific Russian politicians in view who are believed to have been involved in the torture death in prison of a lawyer named Magnitsky and who have not been punished in Russia. Whatever one thinks of this law, the important thing to have clearly in view is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with adoptions or with the treatment of orphans. Got that? Keep it in mind.
Putin and Russian politicians felt themselves insulted by the passage of the Magnitsky Act, so insulted that they determined that they must do something in retaliation. Evidently it occurred to them that merely passing a parallel law to prevent Americans suspected of gross human rights abuses from traveling to or banking in Russia wouldn't have a huge effect on Americans (ahem), so they cast about for something else. And thought of...orphan adoption. What a brilliant idea! Punish Americans by implying that they are unfit parents, which can be done by preventing them from adopting Russian orphans. That'll show 'em.
January 5, 2013
The real principle: Making unwanted people dead
A court in New York State has removed guardianship of apparently unconscious Gary Harvey from his wife, Sara Harvey, on the grounds that she "was ill-suited to care for him and did not follow the advice of medical professionals" and has granted that guardianship to the county, which has been trying to dehydrate him to death.
No further details are available on Sara's alleged "unsuitability," except for the fact that she apparently doesn't want her husband to be dehydrated to death. If she is unable to care for him at home, which could easily be the case, it scarcely follows that she cannot be his medical guardian and have legal decision-making power over things like whether he should continue to receive food and water. That the county wishes to dehydrate him to death should indicate that his county guardian is "ill-suited" to make those decisions.
Wesley J. Smith conjectures, with some plausibility, that Sara Harvey may have been removed precisely because she refused to dehydrate her husband to death, that this might have been the "advice of medical professionals" which she refused to accept. Further evidence for this (beyond the absence of other explanation for the removal of Sara Harvey and Smith's experience of exactly such guardianship decisions) is to be found in the statement in a news story,
The county was named Gary Harvey’s guardian. In 2009, Chemung County planned to remove Gary Harvey’s feeding tube on the advice of doctors, but the move was blocked.
That tells us what "medical" advice the doctors are giving.
When Terri Schiavo's case was in the news, we often heard the would-be-wise tell us that her husband "had the right" to decide her medical fate. This was not even legally correct. The State of Florida could have appointed someone else as her guardian, and the decision to kill her was made by a court on the basis of the unsubstantiated claim that this would have been her own wish. In this case in New York, my guess (though it is only a guess) is that a "best interests" standard is being used rather than the allegation that this is what Gary Harvey "would have wanted." This makes guardianship all the more legally crucial. But where is the supposed principle that a spouse "has the right" to be guardian and to decide these things? When it's inconvenient to the culture of death, that principle is nowhere in sight.
In a well-motivated effort that I fear will be unsuccessful, Terri's brother Bobby Schindler has petitioned the court to be made Mr. Harvey's guardian. This is an obvious attempt to call the county's bluff. If the claim is that there is some legitimate, special reason (other than not wanting him to die) why Mrs. Harvey cannot be her husband's guardian and make medical decisions for him and that the county has been forced to assume guardianship because there is no one else available to do so, then Schindler's offer should be taken seriously.
The case bears watching. Also, if your state provides for a medical durable power of attorney, make sure you have one set up. That will make it harder for the state to do what they are trying to do here.
January 6, 2013
Hobby Lobby: For the sake of the call
Since my previous, brief Hobby Lobby post got only a few comments, and since I was thinking again about Hobby Lobby's situation this evening, here goes:
The CEO of Hobby Lobby wrote this heartbreaking letter, which I've just now read. Take a couple minutes to read it. It says,
My family has lived the American dream. We want to continue growing our company and providing great jobs for thousands of employees, but the government is going to make that much more difficult. The government is forcing us to choose between following our faith and following the law.
Christians in America today rarely have a villain put a literal gun to their heads and ask them to deny Christ. For almost any compromise one might be called upon to make, one can find plausible excuses. And for almost any challenge that might be laid upon one's heart spontaneously, one can argue that it isn't actually religiously required that one accept that challenge.
Jesus no longer walks bodily by the seashore among us, pointing to each of us, calling us by name: "Come, follow me." That makes it easy not to recognize those defining moments when we really must stand up and be counted. In fact, we might easily wonder if there are any such defining moments in our quiet lives.
David Green believes that such a moment has come for his company and for himself as its leader, and he is willing to abandon all that he has built for the sake of the call. May all of us have ears to hear when our moment comes.
January 7, 2013
A more fraudulent title for this dangerous measure could not be imagined.
These are the words Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois uses for the "The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act" as part of a letter he wrote concerning this Act. The Act is a bill currently being considered by the State legislature in Illinois which would legalize so-called same-sex "marriage" (Illinois already recognizes civil unions for same-sex couples).
Bishop Paprocki wrote the letter to be read to all his parishoners from the pulpit at Mass this past weekend and after Lydia posted the Hobby Lobby letter, I thought our readers might be interested to read the good Bishop's forceful denunciation of a slightly different aspect of the madness of liberalism. His last three paragraphs are particularly good and get at the religious liberty problems associated with all these so-called same-sex "marriage" bills:
January 11, 2013
A story of hope
There is so much wrong with the world that it is easy to become discouraged. Here is a story of a life saved, from the summer 2012 Human Life Review. The story is told as part of an article on the pro-life warrior Lori Kehoe.
One day, the phone rang at the office [of the Right to Life League of Southern California], and for whatever reason, the secretary wasn't there. Instead, a board member, who was working there on a fundraiser and did not really know the usual phone protocol, answered the phone.
The young man on the other end told her, "My girlfriend will kill my baby."
Now, had Lori or one of the other office workers picked up the phone, they would have counseled the young man, and explained that, legally, the Right to Life League could do nothing. Instead, this board member said, "We can stop that! We'll get you a lawyer!"
They called the legal offices of Sam Casey, who later became head of the Christian Legal Society. Sam was not there, and if he had been, he would have told her they could not do anything about it. Instead, another lawyer answered and suggested they file a temporary restraining order to prevent the abortion.
Once in court, they argued that the young man and his girlfriend had gone to a crisis pregnancy center, where the girl had said that she wanted to keep the baby. Her parents were pressuring her, but she herself did not want the abortion. Amazingly, the judge granted them the temporary restraining order and told them he would stop the abortion until Andrea could appear before him and tell him herself that she wanted the abortion.
January 12, 2013
A Prayer for Lawrence Auster
On Sunday, January 13, the bloggers who are part of a group calling themselves "The Orthosphere" have decided to organize a global vigil of massed intercessory prayer for Lawrence Auster. For those who don't know, Larry has been suffering for many months from "cancer, and from related maladies brought on either by the disease itself, or by the chemo-therapy he has endured. While he has fought off the cancer for a long time, and soldiered bravely onward at "View From the Right", his condition lately has worsened."
The above information comes from the Orthosphere blog and you can go there to get more information. It is no secret that current and former writers for this blog have had their disagreements with Larry -- now is not the time to rehash those serious, but irrelevant clashes as Larry gets ready to be called home. What is important to know is that whatever our disagreements, I know Larry is someone who cares deeply about Christ and the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ (as we put it in our statement of purpose) and so I hope you'll join with me and others around the world and pray for Larry Auster.
January 14, 2013
Some philosophy of religion for your week
I've been doing a little debating over on Facebook recently regarding divine timelessness, and it seemed that W4 readers might like to get in on the discussion. My own position is the Boethian position--namely, that God is timeless, except insofar as God the Son was made man.
I've always been a Boethian, ever since I understood the issue. It seems to fit well with much of Scripture, though not to be absolutely necessitated by Scripture. The position fits exceptionally well with the Einsteinian intertwining of space and time, since obviously God, as a spirit, is not essentially a spatial being. It provides a good way to comprehend divine omniscience regarding the future, and it is consonant with the general idea that God transcends all created things. The position has a lot of advantages.
However, I know that not everyone agrees. William Lane Craig, for example, holds that God has been timeless aside from creation, but that with the creation of the world God came to be "in time," a position that I admit I don't really understand.
One argument for divine temporality, at least "since" creation, goes approximately like this:
1. Any cause must either precede or be simultaneous with its effect.
2. The act of God's will that brings about a miracle is a cause of the miracle.
3. God sometimes does miracles.
4. The act of God's will that brings about a miracle must either precede or be simultaneous with the miracle.
5. The act of God's will that brings about a miracle must be in time.
6. If an act of God's will is in time, then God is in time.
7. God is in time.
January 16, 2013
What do people say such things?
Someone involved in a Facebook debate about abortion referred positively to this paper by Peter Millican.
There are so many things wrong with it that it would take a lot more time than I want to spend to discuss them all. Such as, for example, the central position of the paper that the abortion of developed fetuses that look human (Millican does not specify at what age this applies) can be reasonably opposed on the grounds that more intrinsically valuable humans have a particular set of feelings of protection toward them. (By the way, given that the majority of induced abortions occur after the fetus "looks human," I await with bated breath Peter Millican's appearance at the Right to Life March or with a sign outside of an abortion clinic. Well, maybe not. But I digress.) Then there is the shocking statement (p. 19) that an older child should be "accorded more respect" than a newborn infant, which, as is par for the course in a philosophical paper, Millican makes on the fly and implies represents the most ordinary moral common sense.
What I want to focus on here is a remarkably silly comment on p. 8, where Millican says that "by the Conservative's reasoning," sperm and ova "seem also to be 'human beings'."
Now, my question is: Why do people say stupid things like that? When I took apart this article, which retailed similar scientific obscurantism, I showed that the author was promoting a feminist agenda which led to a desire to make the female gamete more important than the sperm cell. But Millican spouts equal opportunity nonsense. He says that both the egg and the sperm should be considered human beings on the basis of the anti-abortion conservative's principles. What is this "reasoning" of the anti-abortionist to which Millican refers? I've now read and re-read, and the nearest thing I can find to an argument to this effect is the following weak sauce:
It may be possible for the Conservative to convince the Liberal that the fetus is a human being, for it is apparently a living being and is certainly of the species Homo sapiens rather than any other...
So apparently the idea is that the anti-abortion conservative believes and argues that any living being, by which Millican must mean not a living organism but any living entity of any kind which has human DNA, is a human being. But this is false. Pro-lifers are not arguing that every cell in the human body is a human being, and they patiently answer this foolish representation of their position again and again by pointing out that at conception a new individual organism of the species homo sapiens comes into existence. Millican's phrase "living being" is fatally ambiguous and, insofar as it is meant to represent an overly broad application of the phrase "human being" on the part of pro-lifers, is a blatant straw man.
Millican's implication seems to be that it is the anti-abortion conservative who is scientifically misguided. But actually, since the anti-abortionist argues that a new member of the species homo sapiens comes into existence at conception, and since this is biologically true, it looks like it must be the pro-choicer who is confused when he implies otherwise or implies that the pro-lifer ought to think otherwise. In other words, it's not the drawing of a line at conception that is scientifically confused but rather the attempt to erase or blur that line.
On p. 7 Millican implies that it would be plausible to argue that an early embryo is part of its mother's body, which is also biological baloney. And on p. 21 he says that "arguably" it is the case that gametes (!) have the potential to develop as do zygotes and fetuses into more (from his perspective) morally significant beings. But this is, again, scientific nonsense.
So here's my question: Millican is a smart guy, and presumably a lot of people who say similar things are smart people. So are they just literally scientifically ignorant? Do they literally not know that a new individual human organism comes into existence when an egg is fertilized? Or do they sorta kinda know it but work to confuse themselves about it because they don't have warm feelings toward early human embryos? Or are they really just being totally deceptive, as I think the Hampikian, the author of the earlier article, was being?
And how can one tell the difference?
Finally, if a person is to some extent suppressing or confusing himself about information that he already has on this subject, is it likely that hammering home the fact that, no, an unfertilized egg is not, and is not even like, a human being, that a new human being in the sense of an individual human organism really does come into existence at conception, and that these are not subjective evaluations but ordinary biological facts, will make a difference?
January 17, 2013
Hapless, Hieromanical, Chuck Hagel
As a neocon hawk (with some reservations), I'm not happy with President Obama's selection of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Others have eloquently presented the case against the former Nebraska Senator and have demonstrated that the main reason he was selected by Obama was to preside over the shrinking of the U.S. military (and perhaps to have another "yes man" around who will support the President as he pulls back from U.S. allies and commitments around the world). Indeed, anyone who can seriously believe in the discredited "linkage" theory of Middle-East peace, which Martin Kramer so ably dismantes here, should be laughed out of any high position in the U.S. security establishment in this day and age (hence my use of the anachronistic "hieromanical" -- it seemed to work with the illiteration).
January 19, 2013
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday
Tomorrow is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. As I mentioned here, in a post that was more eloquent than this one is likely to be, this day each year always leaves me somewhat tongue-tied. What are we able to say, as the years pass by, and our land continues to be governed by an abortion regime that does not permit the protection of the unborn child to any legal entity?
One thing we must not do is become jaded and embittered. I here would caution my fellow ardent pro-lifers against becoming embittered by the thought that overturning Roe v. Wade would "merely" return the issue to the states and allowing this to make us feel that overturning Roe v. Wade is not a worthy goal. Be assured: It is a worthy goal. It is a worthy goal in terms of truth-telling, for no longer would our country's Constitution be so abused and lied about as it currently is, when we are supposed to believe that the murder of the unborn is a constitutional right. It is a worthy goal in terms of the education of the minds of the young, for law is a teacher, and if you tell young women that it is their constitutional right to kill their children, they may well think that right a good thing, as will the men who wish to have sex with them without consequences. It is a worthy goal practically in terms of the solidity of the abortion license, for if the matter is returned to the states, we will have enormously greater scope for protecting unborn children. The abortion license will be able to be removed or greatly restricted in various states, making "abortionist" a less attractive career option for risk-averse doctors. It is a worthy goal in terms of the encouragement of pro-lifers, for if it becomes once more possible to protect children in law, we will no longer be tempted to the deadly discouragement that tells us that our educational efforts are at least partly pointless, since even if we converted large numbers of people to the pro-life view, they would be stymied as far as shutting down the abortion mills. It is a worthy goal in terms of protecting young women from coercion and pressure, for in those states where abortion is outlawed or greatly restricted by law, "respectable" parents, husbands, and boyfriends will no longer be able to tell the young woman they are pressuring that this is a legal option. It is a worthy goal in terms of protecting the ability of pro-lifers to protest, picket, and persuade, for it is Roe, ultimately, that serves as the justification for such additional abominations as the FACE act, and FACE, bubble zones, and the like will be easier to attack once the abortion license itself is governed only by a patchwork of state and local laws.
Do not listen to those, either on the left or on the right, who hold themselves aloof from the mainstream pro-life cause and from Sanctity of Life Sunday on the grounds that overturning Roe isn't that big of a deal after all.
January 22, 2013
The war is not ending
“A decade of war is now ending.”
Alas for our liberals, including the President and many among his formal opposition, a war cannot end without the consent of both adversaries. The Jihad will not end. It is the eternal war waged to bring infidels under the suzerainty of Islam. The origin of this war lies in the far distant past; its commencement touches and shapes virtually every era of history since; and the quickening of its spiritual antecedents by modern circumstances has inaugurated a new and terrible era.
Ours in the age of the high-tech razzia: Cell-phones, Semtex, coordinated strikes, multinational mercenaries bent on butchery, mayhem and terror.
Antonin Scalia's hat--it don't get much better
January 24, 2013
Conscience, feminism, and the draft [Updated}
The national news is filled with the breathless word that Leon Panetta has declared that all combat roles are to be "opened" to women. Such an opportunity! Silly me, I'd missed the fact that back in the 1990's the official (though oft-flouted) ban on women in combat roles had been lifted at the Congressional level and the whole issue turned over to the Department of Defense.
All of which means, in case you didn't know, that it is now not at all implausible that young women between the ages of 18 and 25, like young men in the same age range, will be required by law to register for the draft.
Oh, not instantaneously. The Selective Service law is still law, not bureaucrat pseudo-law that can be changed overnight. So Congress will have to catch up with the program, and there may be a period, however brief, in which citizens can lobby Congress not to change the law. But there is an independent entity here: The courts. In Rostker v. Goldberg the Supreme Court ruled that the reason the Selective Service law doesn't violate men's rights to "equal protection" is because women can't serve in combat. With that response officially out of the way, it is as sure as can be that, if Congress doesn't capitulate, someone will file a lawsuit again, and the court will not have that rationale anymore to bolster the unequal treatment of men and women in registering for the draft.
Which leads to a very real question: What should those of us who have or will have women we love in the relevant age range and who regard women in our androgynized military as an obscenity counsel them to do if and when the law says that they are required to register for the draft? There is an obvious sense in which just going along with it is acquiescing in the vision of women as warriors and of men and women as fungible, which we utterly reject and are teaching them to reject.
On the other hand, the penalties of refusal to register are heavy. Men who do not register for the draft are technically subject to federal prosecution which can lead to up to five years' prison time and a fine of $250,000. This aspect of the law has not been enforced since the 1980's but could be once again. Most states have laws that link the ability of a man within the relevant age range to get a driver's license to his registration for the draft. Without a driver's license one cannot drive, and without official ID, one may not be able to vote. Then there are the "incidental" penalties, like being unable (ever) to get federal student aid or loans if one does not register within the relevant time period. Some states (I am told, though haven't verified) will not allow men even to attend their colleges if they have not registered for the draft. Side note: My own state of Michigan says here, contrary to the statement at the SSS site, that a man can get a driver's license in the state within the relevant age range while refusing to register for the draft. However, it ominously warns that in that case you are in violation of federal law (and after checking "no" on the form you would of course be in knowing violation) and possibly subject to federal prosecution.
In short, it would be no small matter for our young women to be asked to engage in immediate civil disobedience if required to register for the draft.
Are there any other options?
January 27, 2013
Today's gospel in my church was the parable of the workers in the vineyard. No doubt you remember it. The owner of the vineyard hires workers at different times of the day. He agrees with the first set of workers to pay them a denarius, and at the end of the day he pays all the workers the same, even those who have toiled only for one hour. Because he has them paid in reverse order, those who have worked all day note the relatively high pay-per-hour received by those hired last, and they hope they'll be getting more, but they get only what they agreed to. They're annoyed. They've worked through the heat of the day and are treated as mere equals with those who have only recently started working.
And you all know how it ends. The vineyard owner chides them for envy, pointing out gently that they got the pay for which they contracted and shouldn't be angry because of his generosity to the late arrivals.
It's pretty clear that this is another of the parables (like the story of the Prodigal Son) that prophesy the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church, but it is so true to human nature that it has many other applications.
I couldn't help thinking of it when noticing some recent squabbles here and there among pro-lifers. On the one hand, we have some truly nasty anti-Catholic sentiment from some Protestants, discussed by the Crescat here. She's quite right to say that, if Protestant pro-lifers don't want to regard themselves as co-belligerents with Catholics and if they go out of their way to be unpleasant, there is no reason to make common cause with those particular Protestants.
In response to Protestant narrow-mindedness, I'm afraid (yes, I admit that I've seen it on Facebook) that some Catholics have succumbed to the temptation (and it must be a very great and to some extent understandable temptation) to play the, "Where were you guys in the 70's?" card. The resemblance to the workers who have wrought through the heat of the day is almost impossible to miss: "Our church was pro-life long before your denominations were. You're the late-comers, and don't you forget it. You should be (more or less) glad we let you join our movement at all!"
All of this should be set aside. If we cannot join together in full Christian Communion, let's by all means join together in fighting the very great evils that beset our beloved country. For the laughter of Mordor will be our only reward if we don't do so.
January 30, 2013
The limits of ethical particularism
Epistemologists have a distinction between what they call methodism and what they call particularism. Particularism in epistemology is the idea that we start out with certain propositions that we just take as a given that we know--typically a fairly wide array of them--and then we figure out from there what knowledge is. These propositions will typically include not only, "I exist" but also things like "There is a book in front of me" and the like. Methodism, on the other hand, takes the more austere approach and begins with an analysis of the concepts of knowledge and justification. This analysis leaves open possibilities such as the existence of a Cartesian deceiver. If there were such a deceiver, he would cause us to be widely mistaken and hence not to know many common sense propositions. For example, there might not really be a book in front of me, in which case, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I don't actually know that there is a book in front of me.
In epistemology, I have always been a methodist and have defended that approach on the scholarly level. I think that for philosophers it takes more to answer the Cartesian skeptic (or for that matter the Berkeleyan idealist) than kicking a stone.
However, ethics is a whole different ballgame. I see no reason whatsoever why the natural light should not operate in such a way as to give us a priori knowledge of ethical particulars. In fact, that's how it seems to work. One can use extreme or odd examples to illustrate such self-evident particular ethical truths, such as, "It is always wrong to burn babies in gasoline for fun," but I think that, "It is always wrong deliberately to kill babies" will do as well or even better, without either the gasoline or the frivolous motives.
From there, we can try to figure out what it is about babies that makes this true, which helps us to develop our more general principles. (Hint: They are innocent human beings who are not actively harming anyone.)
The practical difficulty with either a principles-first approach or a specifics-first approach in ethics is that if you get either one drastically wrong to begin with, you end up somewhere drastically wrong. We see what happens when you start out with absolutely the wrong particulars in this story, highlighted by Wesley J. Smith.