Thursday, June 25, 2009

Means and Ends

Ryan and I had a slight discussion yesterday about what faith the founders did or didn’t have to risk so much with so little chance of success.

Anyway, it was speculation and it was just part of a larger discussion which started as a question about whether a government could or should force fecundity in the event of a population collapse. I said it would depend upon the world-views of the individual men and women who made up that government. I said that if the survival of the species were believed by a controlling interest in that government to be a concrete good that needed to be achieved at any cost—even at the cost of acting against other moral principles—than, yes, a government made up of such individuals would probably utilize any means within their power to encourage the survival of the species including the use of force. That is, they could and probably would resort to forced copulation and/or forced impregnation.

If, on the other hand, a controlling interest in that government believed that the survival of the species should NOT be achieved at any cost and if that same controlling interest believed it a grave moral evil to force a person to copulate or to forcibly impregnate a woman, that government probably WOULDN’T—and would believe they SHOULDN’T—resort to any means to ensure the survival of the species. In particular, they wouldn’t resort to the use of force EVEN IF IT MEANT THE TERMINATION OF THE SPECIES.

I said, in making my point, that in either case, what a government would or what a government should do would depend on the world-view—the beliefs about life, the universe, and everything—that the individuals who made up that government held to.

That spawned a conversation about the beliefs of the founders. I submitted that our founders, almost to a man, had a certain faith in the guiding hand of Providence in the affairs of men.

I did a little research in order to determine what that faith was and what they meant by the word Providence.

Doing a little more research this morning I came across this quote from Alexander Hamilton that I wanted to share:

"I have carefully examined the evidences of the Christian religion, and if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity I would unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor. I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Murder and Selective Births

First, I feel I need to make my own position clear with regard to this issue.

I'm not pro-abortion. I'm anti-abortion. I am pro-life. I can’t think of, nor have I heard of, any circumstance or any set of circumstances which could possibly converge to make the deliberate abortion of a pre-term pregnancy licit in my opinion.

Notice I use the term abortion with regard to pregnancy. A pregnancy, like any process, can be aborted. I believe that pregnancy is one particular process that ought not to be deliberately aborted for any reason at all. People aren’t aborted. People are killed. Sometimes, people are murdered. And murder is the deliberate killing of one person by another person in contradistinction to moral and natural law.

It is absolutely true that one person may kill another person—may take another person’s life—in such circumstances that such killing isn’t murder. Legitimate self-defense is one such circumstance. Defending the life of another from a clear and present danger is another. There are more possible circumstances but the purpose of this blog isn’t really to get into too much of that. I just wanted it to be clear that I believe that THERE IS a distinction between killing and murder and that the former may not necessarily be the latter in each and every case.

However, I believe that the deliberate killing of an innocent non-aggressor is always murder in each and every circumstance. Examples would be non-combatants in war-time as well as the unborn in the womb.

If I may quickly touch on the recent murder of infamous abortion doctor George Tiller…

The killing of George Tiller was a murder in the same way as the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald was a murder. Assuming absolutely certain the fact that Oswald murdered Kennedy and, for the sake of argument, that abortion is murder, the guilt or, if you’d rather, the non-innocence of both parties may be firmly established.

So if Scott Roeder and Jack Ruby were merely exercising justice against two guilty men, why call it murder? First of all, because at the time of their murder they weren’t aggressors—they weren’t posing a clear or present danger to anyone. Secondly, neither Roeder nor Jack Ruby had any authority to exercise justice against Tiller or Oswald regardless of their guilt. Neither one had any more authority to execute someone than to lock them up. The one, absent the proper authority, is murder while the other, absent the proper authority, is kidnapping.

Finally, just to be clear about this distinction, I believe a strong argument could be made in Roeder’s or Ruby’s defense if the circumstance had been different. For example, if Ruby had happened to come across Oswald by accident in the book depository a second or two before Oswald shot Kennedy and if the only way that Ruby could stop Oswald from pulling the trigger was to deal him a lethal blow, than that would have been within Ruby’s limited authority as a private citizen to save the life of another human being. Though such an act in defense of the President himself adds a certain additional emotional weight to the argument, I think the personage of the one being defended from attack is irrelevant. For these purposes, we could substitute George Tiller for Kennedy and the argument remains the same. Ruby, acting in the defense of a person in immediate mortal danger, would not be guilty of murder if he had to use lethal force to effect that defense. The relative guilt or innocence of the one being defended is as irrelevant as that person’s social status or position within society.

That having been said, I believe that unborn children are people with, at the minimum, the right to life. They are innocent. And regardless of any danger they may pose to their mother by virtue of their mere existence within her they are non-aggressors since any danger they may pose cannot possibly be deliberate. (Of course it were possibly deliberate that would be an argument against abortion rights since only people are capable of deliberate action.)

Now the reason I began writing this post is because I read something on by William Saletan. He’s adamantly pro-choice but he tends to write intelligently on the abortion and stem cell debates. His article today, “Sex Selection: Nobody's Business?” had this nugget:

[L]et's turn the tables on those of us who oppose abortion regulation. How far should we go? Would you oppose regulation even of abortions aimed at preventing the births of girls? Because there's increasing evidence that such abortions, which take place by the millions in Asia, are now being done by the thousands in the United States as well.

Saletan concludes his article with the questions, “If you're pro-life, how far are you willing to go in regulating abortion? If you're pro-choice, how far are you willing to go in leaving it unregulated?”

It’s possible that many or even most pro-lifers accept the “merciful exceptions” argument to abortion regulation—that abortion should or could be permitted in cases of incest or rape or to save the life of the mother.

Whether or not that’s the case, I imagine that pro-lifers generally distinguish what those limits, if any, should be.

I’m not so sure that’s the case with most pro-abortion people, however. Any limit and any distinction can be made to seem arbitrary. Either a woman can licitly terminate her pregnancy at any stage and for any reason she chooses or she cannot. If she cannot terminate her pregnancy at any stage or for any reason than there are presumably some stages but not others that she may licitly terminate her pregnancy and presumably there are some reasons but not others which can be accepted for terminating her pregnancy.

What reasons and stages those are (or aren’t) is the matter of intense debate.

Leaving aside the question of stages and focusing only on reasons, could gender selection ever be an acceptable reason. If not, what logically compelling reason could be given for limiting a woman’s freedom of choice in that regard but not others?

Good article anyway. Check it out.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Obama's Moral Equivocation

From a commentary this morning by Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post:

Obama offered Muslims a careful admonition about women's rights, noting how denying women education impoverishes a country -- balanced, of course, with this: "Issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam." Example? "The struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life."

Well, yes. On the one hand, there certainly is some American university where the women's softball team has received insufficient Title IX funds -- while, on the other hand, Saudi women showing ankle are beaten in the street, Afghan school girls have acid thrown in their faces, and Iranian women are publicly stoned to death for adultery. (Gays, as well -- but then again we have Prop 8.) We all have our shortcomings, our national foibles. Who's to judge?

That's the problem with Obama's transcultural evenhandedness. It gives the veneer of professorial sophistication to the most simple-minded observation: Of course there are rights and wrongs in all human affairs. Our species is a fallen one. But that doesn't mean that these rights and wrongs are of equal weight.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

UPDATE: I have some more info on that book I blogged about yesterday...

The book is "Great People of the Bible" by Rev. Jude Winkler, OFM, Conv. Copyright 1985 by Catholic Book Publishing Co., N.Y. Imprimatur by Joseph T. O'Keefe, D.D., Vicar General, Archdiocese of New York.

To illustrate what I was talking about yesterday, I'll quote a few passages. With "Adam The First Man", Winkler begins, "When we think back to reflect upon our ancestors, a certain pattern usually develops. For the first few generations we know numerous details about them--names, dates, places. As the clock goes back, however, we slowly lose the details.

"Eventually we are left with nothing more than a name by which we can remember them, and then we pass to the time when even names are lost.

"The authors of the court of King David and Solomon (called the Yahwist school of writing) faced a similar development when they wrote about how God had guided Israel. ...

"These sacred writers wanted to state that they firmly believed God had guided their ancestors always, even from the first days of creation. However, they faced a practical difficulty of having so little information with which they could work. They didn't even have a name to assign to the first man or woman.

"It was for that reason that these authors searched the pagan myths of their days for elements that they might borrow for the account of creation. They borrowed selectively, though, carefully removing anything that was blatantly pagan.

"Their account (Genesis 2) made it very clear that they believed God had created the first man and woman. They gave the first man a generic name, Adam, for that name in Hebrew means nothing more than 'man.' ...

"Around 400 years after the first account had been written, another school of authors, the Priestly authors, wrote their own account of creation (Gensis 1) to complete the first account. In this account creation is spread out over a seven-day period."

The narrative goes on like that for a few paragraphs. JEPD sound familiar to anyone? Particulary J/Jehova (or Y as in Yahwe, as in the Yahwist school of writing) and P (the priestly authors)? It would if you were familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis.

In describing Cain and Abel (they share a page) Winkler writes, "The Yahwist authors who wrote the story of Cain and Abel recognized the wrongness in fraternal violence. It so shocked them that they decided to use the story of fratricide as an example of how society could quickly and disasterously degenerate after sin had entered the world."

It's a pity that more isn't known about the so-called "Yahwist authors" since, if they really existed and if they wrote what the author credits them with, they've had an amazing and altogether disproportionate influence, for good or for ill, on the future of the entire world.

I speak to Christians here and especially to Catholics. Those outside the body of Christ will doubtless find plenty of ammunition against us with this book and even with these quotes I'm giving. I would simply warn them that the ammunition is wet and rather old. It may take down an unarmed man (the children the book was intended for) but not one who has studied and made themselves familiar with the fallacies and gaping holes in the Documentary Hypothesis.

A good source that I found back in 2004 is this article by Doug Beaumont:

Here's another one I found a year later by Wilbert R. Gawrisch:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bad Writing

My church has a reading rack where people can buy books. One of the books on the rack yesterday was called “Great People of the Bible” or something like that. It’s a picture book intended for children. I picked it up before mass expecting to be able to entertain Gabriela with it.

During the Sermon, I opened it up to the first page. The first page was about the first man, Adam. To my dismay, I discovered that the author of the book apparently accepts the Documentary Hypothesis in contradistinction to the traditionally held Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible. He even went so far in his narratives describing the Old Testament personalities as to claim as fact that the “historians” who compiled the Creation account in Genesis 2 had surveyed the creation myths from the surrounding pagan cultures and edited them into something suitable for Jewish theology. His biography of Noah and the great flood followed the same approach, i.e. the pagan myths came first and the Jewish synthesis came later.

Now, I’m not making it my business at this time or in this place to question whether or not the Documentary Hypothesis is sufficiently plausible as an alternative to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Whatever the merits of the hypothesis, the simple fact remains that the Documentary Hypothesis in its current form or indeed in ANY form is unproven and, short of actually finding a reference in an ancient source to any of the “documents” that supposedly make up the narration of the first five books of the bible, is un-provable. As it is, ancient Jewish and Christian tradition has always held unquestioningly to Mosaic authorship—a thing which would be odd if the Pentateuch had not even arrived in its final form until the 4th century BC, as the hypothesis suggests.

Of course I suppose it’s possible that Jews and Christians in and around the first century AD accepted it as common knowledge that the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were compilations of diverse materials separated by centuries from the events they purport to describe and that the claim of Mosaic authorship by ancient rabbis and even Jesus himself was a knowing convention, misunderstood and accepted as fact for hundreds of years after the fall of Jerusalem, and rediscovered only in our own time…. Possible but not proven, not provable, and contrary to the one source (the Bible) that the author was using to construct his biographies of the Great People.

But I digress. The point is that here this book, intended for children ages maybe 7 to 12, was authoritatively passing a hypothesis on as fact without even a discussion of the hypothesis (as a hypothesis) in question. It merely introduces Adam (in this example) and goes on to instruct the reader that Adam was a generic name assigned to the main character in a synthesized creation myth constructed by Solomon’s court historians and polished and put in its final form by the Maccabees a few centuries before Christ.

Again, the Documentary Hypothesis may be true. I don’t know that it is. I think it probably isn’t. I believe that it’s not. And I’m not really qualified right here and right now to refute it. But what I DO KNOW, is that nobody KNOWS if it’s true.

But I DO know that, unless a child is unusually well read and has been carefully instructed and exercised in the finer points of critical thinking, he or she will read the narratives in that book and come away from them thinking he KNOWS what, in reality, nobody knows.

Just to head off an objection… I understand that a critical thinker may look at what I’ve written and say, “Well, nobody ‘knows’ if anything in the Bible and especially in those first few chapters is true and yet a lot of Christians believe that they do ‘know’ that Adam existed, that there was a great flood, that Jesus worked miracles, etc… It’s a matter of belief, not knowledge.” Maybe or yes or whatever… That isn’t the point.

I might decide to write a book called “Great People of Star Wars”. My source—my only source—would have to be the Star Wars movies. Nothing else is “canon”. I realize that George Lucas probably wrote a lot of drafts before getting to the final versions of the stories that became the screenplays that became the movies. But it really doesn’t matter because the drafts, the stories, and the screenplays aren’t my source and if they were my source I should say so. Without access to those sources and without acknowledging my use of those sources I would have no liberty to speculate about George Lucas’ creative process and, in any event, if I do speculate, I should make it clear that I’m speculating.

If I choose to write about the people and events in the Star Wars universe as if they were real—as if I’m an observer WITHIN the Star Wars universe—I need to maintain that choice throughout. But if I intend to write about the people and events in the Star Wars universe as fictional creations of the man George Lucas in my own universe, my choice needs to be clear from the beginning. And when millions of people from your intended audience really believe that they are living within the universe you’re writing about and that they have a biological and spiritual relationship with the people in that universe, your choice, whether you intend to treat the people and events as real or fictional, needs to be stated as clearly as possible from the outset.

I can’t find the book on the Internet but I’ll be sure to update this post with the Pertinent information when I can. The illustrations are typically mid-80’s so, from a nostalgic point of view, that’s a point in its favor.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tortured Diplomacy

A few thoughts on the situation with Iran and North Korea…

When the debate over the “torture memos” was still going on, I sent Doug and Ryan an e-mail. In it, I opined that interrogations of any kind always involve some kind of tit-for-tat. We can potentially get a suspect to open up to us and give us something we want—in this case information or a confession—if we’re able to give them something they want. In the case of arrested criminals or apprehended enemy combatants, if we’re disinclined to offer them their freedom then we need to be able to offer them some other increase in their present comfort level. We may offer them greater freedom within the limits of their confinement or greater luxury to enjoy while being confined, but since the tit must have roughly the same value as the tat and since the value of the potential information may be inestimably greater than any increase in comfort we can possibly offer, the tit-for-tat arrangement becomes more difficult as the potential information we might hope to get from interrogations becomes more valuable.

Continuing to speak only of suspected terrorists, we can potentially reduce this difficulty and stack the deck in our favor by intentionally decreasing the comfort level of our suspect to a point they find unacceptable and then merely promise to restore their comfort to where it was when we started. The more their comfort is decreased, the more valuable to them that promise may become. Some methods by which we can decrease a suspect’s comfort may rightly and justly be considered torture but certainly not all methods. A captured terrorist who we suspect of having valuable information may already have a very low degree of physical comfort in his present confined condition. His movement may already be limited to a small cell with nothing but a cot and a Koran. He may live on nothing but bread and water. And the offer of more personal freedom or greater luxury might not be “valuable” enough to him to get him to talk. If he’s a hardened terrorist and also an ideologue, such an offer may be an insult to him and may cause him to lose whatever fear and respect for his captors we might have been fortunate enough to have instilled in him.

If such is the case, decreasing his present comfort level may be our only option and of course, if it must be done, it should be done in such a way as to conform to our collective sense of the dignity inherent to every human being. At present, let’s say, our suspect’s present comforts include a space to live and a place to sleep, food for his body and food for his soul, a comfortable temperature, light to see by, air to breathe, and, conditions allowing, he may be used to a certain degree of peace and quiet.

And so we may decrease the size of his living space be degrees. We can “put him in the hole”. We can bind him in chains. We can take away his cot and let him sleep on the floor for several nights. We can add noise to his environment making sleep difficult if not impossible. We can withhold his daily bread. We can take away his Koran. We can make him too cold or too hot. We can take away his light. We can take away his air.

As I said, some methods by which we could accomplish any of those things may really be torture. I don’t think every method is necessarily.

When discussing methods to bring about any of those discomforts one must realize that discomfort can become torture, not suddenly, but gradually—so gradually, in fact, that one might not notice the transition. Also, one must realize that it’s really subjective. One man’s torture may be another man’s discomfort. Even confinement in an enclosed space may be rightly considered torture by some. There are many religious all over the world—our suspect may be one of them—who voluntarily submit themselves to hardships and discomforts that many of us WOULD consider torture if they were involuntarily forced upon us.

But I digress. It struck me as I was reading about the latest flap with North Korea that interrogations of suspected terrorists and international diplomacy are very similar. At the very root of both is this tit-for tat relationship. “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” Well, what if Kim Jung Il doesn’t want his back scratched? Maybe he wants something else. Do we give it to him no matter what it is just to get him to scratch our back and give up his nuclear ambitions?

The question is, how can we further decrease the comfort of Iran’s or North Korea’s leadership so that we’ll be in a position to offer them something they want that doesn’t compromise our security interests? Iran and North Korea are threats to their regions and they are threats to our interests. If their apparent ambitions are left unmolested and uninterrupted they may one day be capable of threatening our safety here in Illinois. I say apparent ambitions because of the possibility that they’re intentionally increasing OUR discomfort in order to get the world community to give them something that they find valuable—something that has less to do with regional or world domination than their actions and their words would have us believe.

But if they might be content with something less or something different than regional or world domination, what might that be? And will Barrack Obama and the other leaders of the free world be able to figure out what that is in time to give it to them? And will it even be in our interests to give it to them, whatever it is?

War, like torture, is used to increase an adversaries discomfort to the point of pain and oftentimes blood. For the soldiers in the field, war frequently means an honorable if regrettable death. But war doesn’t necessarily mean the death or dissolution of the warring nations. The USSR bled more than any other nation in WWII. Over 20,000,000 Soviets lost their lives in that conflict. It’s been said that Russia bled the German army white. Germany lost over 7,000,000. Japan lost almost 3,000,000 lives. But Russia, Germany, and Japan survived the war.

So let’s figure out what North Korea and Iran want. If what they want is something that we can’t or don’t want to give them then we’ll have to either make them want something that we’re able to give them or we’ll have to accept whatever they’re willing to give us and learn how to live in that new reality—probably a reality that includes Iran and North Korea with nuclear weapons, missiles to deliver those weapons in a hostile manner to their neighbors, and, as a result, an Iran and a North Korea with a great deal more clout then they have now. And what if their aspirations are geo-political? What if their intentions are to subject neighboring territories to their regime’s control? Even if we’re willing to accept an Iranianized Middle-East, will Iran’s neighbors? And won’t that mean war whether we asked for it or not?

I hope diplomacy will work as much as the next guy. But if or when diplomacy fails, I wonder what we’ll be willing to accept as an alternative.

First Blog

I can't offer anything really creative for this opening blog. And I don't know if anyone except me will ever see this stuff. But I thought It'd be nice to have a place to post my thoughts in a passive, non-obtrusive way. That is, rather than assaulting my friends with them (who won't be my friends much longer if I continue to assult them, I imagine).

So reading is voluntary. Responses are, as well. And if a friendly but impassioned dialogue can result, so much the better.