The Interconnectedness of Ethical Judgments

We live in a world of compartmentalization. You go to the grocery store and there is a bread aisle, a fruit aisle, an ice cream aisle. You go to Best Buy and there is a TV section, a cell phone section, a DVD section, a computer section. You go to the Mall and there are stores for men’s clothes, more stores for women’s clothes and so on. You go to the car dealer and there is a row of convertibles, a row of mini-vans, a row of SUVs, a row of hybrids, a row of sports cars. You get my drift. It is then in no way surprising that we tend to compartmentalize our ethical judgments. You’ll find people who are rabidly anti-abortion and rabidly pro guns. You’ll find people who are rabidly anti-government but at the same time calling up the Social Security administration all the time asking why their check is so small and why their Medicare benefits are not covering everything. It is my conviction that some of these obvious ethical inconsistencies are due to living in a compartmentalized world. And the real outcome of such compartmentalized thinking is not merely inconsistencies but the ability to not think things through to their logical consequences, never mind the ability to hold flatly contradictory opinions on issues that should in fact be considered together and about which one should draw similar conclusions. Life may be strange, but modern ethical (or unethical) thinking is even stranger. One controversial example must suffice.

Let’s take the issue of being pro-life. Logically if you want to protect the unborn, this then of course means you want them to be born, and have a chance at life, hopefully a long life. You are after all, pro life! Thought through to it’s logical conclusions then, you should want for that life the things that make for a good and healthy and moral life, not just any sort of life. It’s no good being pro life while living on top of a nuclear waste dump, or near a factory that belches out fumes that cause lung diseases and cancer of various sorts. My point is simple— any logical pro-life person should also be very much a pro-clean air, pro-clean water, pro-healthy food person, and so on wanting a healthy lifestyle and environment for their child. If all you care about is that someone get’s born but you don’t care about the environment and circumstances into which they are born, you are simply not thinking through ethical issues to their logical conclusions. You have to ask yourself seriously— what sort of world am I bringing this child into?

And of course this also leads to a discussion about birth control. No loving person should be so careless about their sexual behavior that they leave themselves wide open to pregnancy when, for example, they live in a town like Homa in Syria at a time like now. Selfishness about sexual desires, or wanting children must take a back seat to being careful not to bring a new vulnerable life, (especially if you are part of a poor and immobile family), into an environment where it is highly likely the child will not survive infancy. That’s just bad ethical judgment.

It is precisely because I am a totally pro-life person that I am also very much concerned not only about the environment, but also about food production, work that is not harmful to your health, working for peaceful solutions to human dilemmas and recognize the realities of a global economy. This recognition is the same reason why I could never be a one issue voter. Everything is interconnected, and much is at stake for life whether we are making decisions about abortions, or what constitutes marriage, or war, or nutrition, or about the environment. The desire to conserve human life requires of us the desire to conserve the only environment in which human life can currently live— the earth, with its delicate eco-sphere and many raging human problems and wars.

But there is yet another reason to think in terms of all the interconnections and think globally and thinking ethically, and it is not just because what I buy in a store here helps someone in China to make a living over there. It’s because I believe every person is created in the image of God and is of sacred worth in God’s eyes. It is because of what John Donne, my favorite Christian poet, once said……

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”

Think on these things, and think ethical thoughts through to their logical conclusions.

  • Josiah

    Thank you for such a precise articulation of why, by extension, loving neighbour as self involves every aspect of life, including care for God’s good creation.

  • http://www.daviddflowers.com David D. Flowers

    I would add that being “pro-life” also means being concerned about the military-industrial complex and the senseless killings around the world in the name of freedom and democracy. Evangelicals have been some of the biggest supporters of preemptive strikes and interventionist foreign wars that bring economic hardships and devastation to others around the world. Military spending is a “pro-life” issue as much as any other. At this rate, it will be the end of America as we know it.

  • Craig

    Once we start talking about quality-of-life issues, and the interests of the unborn baby, logic (and certain other frequently held religious assumptions) should lead a some of these evangelicals to de-emphasize their attempts to make abortion illegal. Here’s an easy-to-follow argument:

    (1) Unborn babies do not deserve worse than death-by-dismemberment.

    (2) God does not condemn people to worse than they deserve.

    (3) Hell is worse than death-by-dismemberment.

    (4) Therefore, God does not condemn unborn babies to hell. (from 1-3)

    (5) Hundreds of millions of unborn babies have been aborted.

    (6) Had they not been aborted, some of these would have survived to adulthood.

    (7) It is not the case that each of these survivors would have come to faith in Christ.

    (8) Adults who do not come to faith in Christ are condemned to hell.

    (9) Therefore, if some had not been aborted, they’d have gone to hell.

    (10) Therefore, abortion has saved some from hell. (from 4-9)

    (11) We can correspondingly conclude that abortion saves an unborn baby from the risk of hell.

    (12) Hell involves eternal suffering and separation from God.

    (13) There is nothing in the earthly life for which it is worth risking eternal separation from God.

    (14) Therefore, abortion is in the unborn baby’s interest. (from 11-13)

  • mike h

    You’re not alone in these sentiments. I, too, am sometimes bumfuzzled by the illogic some folks use.
    Another kindred voice:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/opinion/sunday/friedman-why-i-am-pro-life.html?_r=0

  • http://hoxeyville.blogspot.com/ Eric

    I don’t get the connection between, say, organizing my pantry (soup on second shelf, cereal on top shelf, etc) or organizing a store or organizing a car dealership lot, and ethical compartmentalization. I see no causal connection, let along a correlation. WE organize shelves and stores and lots to assist in finding things. I don’t think many people want to go to their cupboard, or the grocery story, and wander around to find the coffee shelved next to the onions, the flour next to the paper products. I see no reason to believe that organizing our spaces promotes ethical compartmentalization.

    I agree with ” It is then in no way surprising that we tend to compartmentalize our ethical judgments” except for the “then.” I am not surprised we compartmentalize. Socrates (and Plato) were well aware of that 2400 years ago. They explained it by postulating the human mind as divisible between reason, drives, and desires. St. Paul was aware of it nearly 2000 years ago. He explained it by postulating the notion of an old self and new self, or between a sin nature and a spirit nature.

    Even Jesus had his disciples organize the hungry multitude into groups of 50s and 100s. It never says why, but it seems reasonable to believe it was to make for more efficient distribution of the food. I’d be hesitant to suggest that Jesus’ or the disciples’ compartmentalizing promoted in them disconnectedness of their ethical judgments.

    I’m just saying.

  • Josiah

    That’s an elaborate argument you have there Craig,

    This argument answers the question, “Is it better to trust that people will use their free-will responsibly, or to abort them before they can choose either way?” Obviously this question is morally repugnant. All answers to this question which fail to address the inherent moral repugnancy, and do not realise that the question ought to be challenged rather than answered on its own terms, necessarily expose the presuppositions of the answerer.

    In other words, what does your argument, which you’ve given a lot of thought to, say about the state of your heart?

    May I suggest that you read, “The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics”, by Richard B. Hays.

    Among other things, this book addresses the ‘tough love’ approach that you’re advocating.

  • Gwen

    Thank you, BW3, for another thoughtful piece. And I’m sorry, Craig. While I agree with the intent of the argument you have carefully crafted, and though it follows a certain course of logic, I must respectfully part with you at the point of your arrival. If being at risk of hell was the determinant, which I understand your argument to suggest, God would have logically been obligated to halt this human experiment before it had begun. While I likely don’t agree with “certain other frequently held religious assumptions” of many evangelicals, it appears you have certain assumptions of your own that weaken your argument.

  • John

    Craig

    Your argument is quite possibly the most ridiculous thing i ever read on the internet

  • Craig

    Well, John, I must get a point for that!

    Josiah, thank you for the book recommendation. I’ll try to have a look at it. In my own view, the repugnancy of the conclusion tells against the premises, in the manner of a reductio ad absurdum. But, so long as a particular believer remains attached to the premises, this is the uncomfortable conclusion to which they lead. This should, at a minimum, provoke a healthy measure of modesty and uncertainty in such a believer, particularly in that believer’s convictions about hell, embryos, and the interests of the unborn. I don’t think that my pointing any of these things out suggests any defectiveness in the state of my own heart.

    Gwen, you argue, “If being at risk of hell was the determinant, which I understand your argument to suggest, God would have logically been obligated to halt this human experiment before it had begun.” I don’t see that this follows at all. It may have been better for Judas Iscariot if he had never been born. This fact, supposing it is one, wouldn’t obviously show the impropriety of creating our world in which Judas Iscariot is in fact born, and is able to do the things that he does (and, in so doing, Judas makes it the case that it would have been better for him if he had been aborted while still in the womb).

  • Josiah

    Craig,
    Your first premise is false as your use of ‘deserve’ implies fatalism. Arguably, Calvinism could also be captured by this premise.

    According to the New Testament suffering is not necessarily evil. It is coming to an end as is evidenced through Jesus’ resurrection. Suffering is not to be feared, rather it provides opportunities for service. Arguments against a ‘good god’ allowing suffering usually presuppose deism. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead turns all such arguments upside down – welcome to the upside down Kingdom!

  • Craig

    Josiah, Perhaps I don’t understand. Premise 1 simply claims that unborn babies don’t deserve worse than death-by-dismemberment. Do you disagree with this claim? Do you suspect, or believe, that unborn babies deserve worse than death-by-dismemberment? That, after all, is what it would mean to reject premise 1.

    In any case, the following conditional conclusion would still hold: if unborn babies don’t deserve worse than death-by-dismemberment, then abortion is in their best interest. That’s still a fairly surprising implication, isn’t it?

  • Max

    “You have to ask yourself seriously— what sort of world am I bringing this child into?”

    Does God ask this question for every child he creates? Does He have to question Himself on this?

  • Josiah

    Craig, your argument presupposes that God’s foreknowledge leads to fatalism or perhaps that Calvinism is correct. Calvinism is an oversimplification which ultimately fails to grant people their inherent responsibility for every moral choice they make – compatibilism, if you will.

    When conversing with non-Christians on the street, I usually appeal to Molinism (William Lane Craig’s hobby horse). Personally though, paradox is more my cup of tea, as it is not a systematic theology, rather the appeal to paradox summarises a good deal of biblical theology. Systematic theologies (the four foreknowledge options being: Calvinism, Arminianism, Molism, Absurdity/Open Theism), are used like keys to decode what this or that biblical author intended, rather than taking seriously what each author actually does say. Systematic theologies usually rely upon and result in ‘proof texts’. Examples of exceptions include: the Christology of Mark, the Christology of Paul’s epistles, Trinity according to Revelation, Trinity according to John’s Gospel and epistles, etc.

    The soundness of your argument depends upon an accurate representation of who God is. [Every Christian who reads your argument will intuitively know that it misrepresents God – perhaps with the exception of some ultraCalvinists.] God is made known through the person of Jesus Christ, and he is encountered through the gospels.

    The way in which a person lives, or dies, is not a matter of ‘deserving’ this life or that death; rather life is a gift, and death a corruption – which is put right through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection.

    I don’t know if this is any help, we seem to be talking past each other.
    Blessings in Christ,
    Josiah

    Ps. Eternal damnation in hell is a systematic theology which fails to adequately represent all the biblical evidence. Annihilation is another possibility with copious support in scripture.

  • Craig

    Josiah, I think the best way to avoid talking past each other is for you to say precisely which premise, or premises, you want to call into question. This will require taking a stand. Do you really suspect that unborn babies deserve worse than death-by-dismemberment? That, after all, is what it means to call premise 1 into question.

  • Josiah

    As I’ve tried to explain, neither premise 1 nor premise 2 is correct because your usage of ‘deserve’ reveals that your presuppositions miss the mark. Your presuppositions matter because they reveal hidden premises which must be fleshed out. Following from this, 4 is not true, neither are 10 or 14.

  • Craig

    So let us be clear: you suspect that unborn babies do deserve worse than death-by-dismemberment. You also suspect that God condemns people to worse than they deserve.

  • John I.

    Craig’s satirical argument is on the money vis a vis evangelical prolife inconsistencies and poor logic. It also hits the shallow logic and ethical reasoning of so many of them. Their form of moral reasoning should, if done consistently, lead them to the repugnant conclusion of killing all babies.

    However, the holes in the logic–which, I am sure, are apparent to Craig–include at least the following:

    (1) If Calvinistic / Augustinian election is correct, then it is entirely possible that not all babies who die go to heaven. As many Calvinists have argued, election to (or not) salvation may apply to babies in the same way as to adults. That is, many babies may not be elect to salvation and hence would end up in hell if killed in infancy.

    Such Calvinists argue that no one deserves heaven, and that all deserve hell–even babies.
    So it is entirely possible to deny that #4 flows from 1 – 3.

    (2) I do note that Craig says that baby death only saves “some” from hell. But the premises equivocate and don’t allocate or assess the benefits and negatives in the same way. The negatives are assessed individually (certain babies avoid hell), but the positives are not. Of the babies who die, many would have missed out on very fulfilling lives (e.g. Beethoven) or would have discovered life saving cures, or been a peaceful president, or a Ghandi. How does one weigh these incommensurate “goods”(the negative of hell v. the goods of a life well lived)? Missing from 5 – 9 is any consideration of the goods missed out on by the babies who are killed but who (had the lived) would have experienced great goods or provided these goods to others.

    (3) There are other goods available to a baby who lives that outweigh the possibility of death in hell–especially if the Arminian branch of reformed theology is correct. Surely to goodness there must be such benefits or God would not have started the ball rolling in the first place. Or perhaps he is just a mean demagogue after all.

    (4) I may be repeating myself here, but it is not necessarily true that killing a baby saves anyone from hell. If, as Calvinists believe, all of the elect were foreordained before (“before” in the logical sense) creation, then no person goes to hell, or heaven, outside of God’s foreordination. God’s will is never thwarted, and no one gets to heaven, or avoids hell apart from God’s preordained decrees. Hence an early death does not necessarily save any person from hell.

    (5) The entire argument proceeds on the basis of a contradictory / flawed view of time and of God’s relationship to it.

    (6) It is not necessarily the case that there are any members at all in the category set out in #9 or #10.

    (7) It is not necessarily the case that going to hell is not in the babies best interest. If God always does what is good, then it must be good to send people to hell. If it is good to send people to hell, then it must be in their self interest. John Piper offers this sort of argument when he argues that those who go to hell glorify God by enabling him to display his attributes of justice and holy anger, and by providing a context that makes mercy meaningful, and because God does give the hell-goers some limited benefits in this life that help to mitigate the eventual hellish experience.

    And so I disagree that 4, 10 or 14 flow from the prior premises.


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