Onward Christian Soldiers

The Bible has always presented a schizophrenic view of the Christian god’s attributes. On one hand, he is styled the “Prince of Peace” who exhorts his followers to resist not evil, to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemies, and to put up the sword lest one perish by it. On the other hand, he is repeatedly called the “Lord of Hosts” – or to use modern terminology, the “Lord of Armies” – who commands his followers to slaughter their enemies unmercifully, who is jealous and vengeful and whose wrath burns hot, who will kill so many people that the land will be soaked with blood, and whom we are urged to fear because he can condemn us to an eternity of torment.

Christian groups throughout history have tended to selectively elevate one side over the other, depending on which better suits their own outlook and beliefs, and today’s religious right is no different. To a large extent, the religious right is motivated by hatred and rage, and accordingly they have drawn on the darker side of Christian teaching to create a god who is vengeful, militaristic, and hates whom they hate. Since most of society still accepts the notion that any opinion derived from religion is above reproach, this enables the modern dominionists to cloak their violent revenge fantasies in a superficial veneer of respectability.

Consider the following excerpt from Glorious Appearing, the twelfth and final book in the best-selling Left Behind series of apocalyptic Christian fiction, in which the second coming of Jesus literally causes unbelievers to be sliced apart like a scene from a horror film:

“Tens of thousands of foot soldiers dropped their weapons, grabbed their heads or their chests, fell to their knees, and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder. Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ.”

Do not forget that, in these Christians’ minds, this is not fiction; this is something they expect to literally happen in the very near future. Do people who believe that deserve to be part of any secular, democratic nation’s government? Should they exercise any influence when it comes to governing the rest of us?

This increasing militarization of Christianity is not confined to fiction; symptoms of it are breaking out in real life. Consider the Christian fundamentalist youth movement – even the name bears witness to its aims – “BattleCry“, which has recently staged massive rallies in several cities across the U.S. As recounted by eyewitnesses, these events feature the trappings of a military ceremony, including Humvees on stage, Christians from a group called “Force Ministries” that appear dressed in the uniforms of Navy SEAL commandos and fire blank rounds from M-16 assault rifles at the crowd, and performances by Christian rock groups that sing lyrics such as “We’re an army of God and we’re ready to die”. Ron Luce, the founder of the event, has said that he plans to launch a “blitzkrieg” – his word – against secular society, that Jesus says that “the violent… will lay hold of the kingdom” and that “Christians who just want love, joy, peace” are part of the problem. Teenage crowds in attendance reportedly wore t-shirts that read “Dressed to Kill” and chanted, “We are warriors!” (For eyewitness reports from the rallies, see the diary “A Carnival of Theocrats at Daily Kos, as well as the two-part series Battle Cry for Theocracy at Truthdig.)

In fairness, there is so far no evidence to suggest that the organizers of these events intend to wage war against society in any literal sense, despite what their overtly violent, warmongering imagery would suggest. Most of what they preach is the religious right’s standard catalogue of ignorance, hate and fear, which is bad enough: outlawing abortion and divorce and keeping teenagers ignorant about contraception, banning pornography, forcibly inserting god-talk into public schools, rolling back separation of church and state, and all the rest of it. However, there are chilling hints that their aims may go further than those of ordinary theocrats. Luce leads youth in attendance to pray, “I will keep my eyes on the battle, submitting to [the Bible] even when I don’t understand”. When confronted with the obvious rejoinder that this policy would mean executing adulterers, disobedient children, homosexuals, women who have sex outside of marriage, and basically all non-Christians in general, he refused to disavow those verses or deny that this was his aim.

In addition, the appearance of Christians in military garb at these events may well have been illegal. The Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits active-duty members of the military from appearing in uniform at overtly partisan religious events such as this. Conversely, if these people are not active servicemembers, they may be liable for impersonating a member of the military, which is a federal offense. (More information and discussion can be found in this IIDB thread.) Either way, even if what they did was illegal, in a climate where an active-duty general can say that the war on Islamic extremism is a war against Satan and receive only a slap on the wrist, the chances of prosecution seem poor.

The most unnerving, though not necessarily surprising, fact about these rallies is that George W. Bush seems to endorse their theocratic message, sending a letter of encouragement to the Philadelphia rally, following which the attendees were asked to “thank God for giving us George Bush”. (Perhaps it is not surprising that a god whose own scriptures describe his repeated blunders and incompetence would select a president who acts likewise.) As in other cases, the religious right does its utmost to present a mask of friendliness and tolerance to the world, while simultaneously sending covert signals of encouragement to its most extreme far-right allies through channels not meant to be overheard by the general public.

Despite their combative rhetoric, these extremist zealots have not won the public over, and for the most part have only made what gains they have by concealing their true goals. And now, with approval ratings of politicians linked to the radical right plummeting, they are uniquely vulnerable. As I have always maintained, if people of conscience and principle are willing to stand and fight, the standard-bearers of darkness, no matter how angry their hearts are or how militaristic their message is, can never hope to triumph.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Rowan

    Worrying stuff indeed…
    Reading that excerpt from the Left Behind books reminded me of a blog that’s writing reviews of them. It’s a Christian blog, by the way, but it seems appalled at the offensive theology and bad writing used by Jenkins and LaHaye.

    http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/left_behind/index.html

  • Philip Thomas

    I am apalled (again) at the behaviour of the “Christian right”. However, I am also shocked (again) that you list opposition to abortion as if it were utterly unacceptable. Do you not recognise that there is a serious debate about human rights here? That the Right to Life is the basis of all the rest? That late term abortions and abortions of convenience are condemned by large numbers of intelligent people? Just because the Christian right supports something doesn’t mean its wrong. Of course, their position on Capital Punishment is repellent to a supporter of the Right to Life, as is their militarism. Still, perhaps their stance on abortion provides some small glimpse of hope that they may emerge from the bunker and engage with reality.

  • Philip Thomas

    On a seperate issue: Schizophrenia does not mean split personality disorder. They are distinct diseases. A Schizophrenic has a distorted view of reality. But he is one person, he doesn’t alternate between different personalities- unless he happens to be suffering from split personality disorder as well as schizophrenia…

  • SpeirM

    “I am also shocked (again) that you list opposition to abortion as if it were utterly unacceptable.”

    I, too, wonder why that supposedly has to be an atheist article of faith. I, for one, buy the argument that willy-nilly abortion encourages (or, at least, is evidence of) a cheapened view of life.

    On the other hand, even as a Christian I had some trouble with the idea that abortion is murder. Here’s why. If it’s murder, it’s premeditated murder. It would, at least potentially, be a capital crime. I’ve pointed that out to Christians during, er, discussions, and asked whether they really believe women who have had abortions and the doctors who performed the procedures ought to be sent to the gas chamber for their deeds. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve had a reply yet. My guess is that this is something they’ve never thought about and that they would rather not deal with the implications.

    But, moving away from abortion, I’ve got to say that the tenor of this latest post disturbs me a bit. Adam, I really do wonder what kind of Christians you’ve been running into. It’s as though you think they all stand ginning at us, but holding meat cleavers behind their backs waiting for us to turn away. On the contrary, some of the finest people I’ve ever known are Christians, and I don’t have any trouble admitting their religion probably has something to do with that. Just because they have a different outlook on some things doesn’t make them evil. As a for instance, most of them think the practice of homosexuality is reprehensible. But here’s what we deliberately overlook when we call them “homophopes”: they’d give a practicing homosexual the shirt off their backs or their last bite of food. They aren’t hateful. Sure, there are some. We all know that. But you seem to be trying to glom them all onto one great stereotypical ball.

    And they aren’t out to impose their religion on us, either. Oh, they’d like to have us believe–really, really badly. Enough to be an annoyance sometimes. (We’re never annoying, are we? ;) ) And, yes, I know that sometimes they don’t seem to realize that even as they deny they want a “theocracy,” their beliefs, taken to their logical conclusion, could hardly result in anything but. But, to be honest, I don’t lie awake at night worrying about it. I don’t see that those beliefs will ever have a chance to be taken to their logical conclusion. There are too many watchdogs out there ready to howl at any sign religion might be crawling up into bed with government. And, I suspect, most of even Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christendom doesn’t want that, either. They’re all too aware of rifts within their own ranks. They know if one sect got the upper hand, it would become somewhat, um, gloomy for the rest. Christianity was more affected by the Enlightenment than we suspect or they’ll admit.

    My own opinion is that should be vigilant, but tolerant and accommodating as possible. Christianity really has shown an ability to wake up to reality when the evidence finally becomes overwhelming. Look at how it’s dragged it’s feet against scientific knowledge in the past. Wasn’t it Calvin who said anyone who believes the Earth goes around the Sun is possessed of devils? But that comment is an embarrassment to the Faith today. Sure, there’s the occasional Gerardus Bouw, but such are exceedingly rare. Even most Fundamentalists think people like that are nuts. I’ve predicted that in 50 years the average believer who calls himself a Fundamentalist Christian will espouse at least some version of descent with modification. The evidence is just too strong to resist forever.

    Christianity will likely be around for a long, long time to come. But what I suspect will happen is that it will morph into something increasingly innocuous as scientific realities continue to slap believers in the face. The extremist views cannot but drop away as that happens.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Philip,

    While I agree that Christians are not wrong on every issue (I even voted for Bush, twice), I have to side with Adam on abortion. Yes, there is no satisfying answer to this issue, but anyone who believes in freedom must be pro-choice. If we don’t own our bodies, then we don’t own anything. The conflict in an abortion is the right of a person to control her body versus a pre-person’s right to live as a parasite to another human. Liberty must side with the individual to live as they choose, free from having another live off of them.

    I’m curious, do you also agree with the “Right to Life” position on euthanasia? The recent Teri Schiavo debacle was an excellent example of the “Right to Life” attempting to steamroll liberty.

    And why is capital punishment repellent? I live in Texas and boast proudly that we execute more people than any other state. I could personally take a child murderer out back and blow his brains out and never lose a wink of sleep. Some people deserve to die. They have renigged on their memebership dues to the human race. Do you really want to reward evil people with a long life cared for in prison?

  • Philip Thomas

    I’m not sure whether one could classify abortion as murder: for one thing infanticide seems a better category. But in any case I am wholly opposed to punishing the mother who takes such a traumatic decision: I do think people who carry out backstreet abortions should be imprisoned though, the risk to the mother is reason enough! But not killed of course, that would be a violation of the right to life grosser than the violation punished…

    Unbeliver, I am afraid we differ on all the topics you mention (especially if you voted for George Bush because of his foreign policy). Though it often seems as if life wouldf be simpler if we killed a few inconvenient people, human life is the most precious thing on the planet, and we should never take it lightly.

    I suppose the abortion quesition hinges on when a “pre-person” becomes a person. I do not think that point is birth, and I am bemused by the attitude that says you can cut a baby out of a woman’s womb and kill it while in the next operating theatre you cut a baby of the same age from a mother’s womb and strive desperately to preserve its life.

    While I am prepared to turn a blind eye to medication regimes which are ‘dual purpose’, deliberately making a fellow human being die of thirst is utterly reprehensible, even if they want to die.

    Capital punishment was once necessary in primitive societies when we lacked the resources to deal with prisoners properly. Now we have the resources: The consideration of possible error is a side issue.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    The abortion issue is a whole other topic, and I’ll address it in another comment. For now, I have some remarks on SpeirM’s comment:

    As a for instance, most of them think the practice of homosexuality is reprehensible. But here’s what we deliberately overlook when we call them “homophopes”: they’d give a practicing homosexual the shirt off their backs or their last bite of food. They aren’t hateful. Sure, there are some. We all know that. But you seem to be trying to glom them all onto one great stereotypical ball.

    I label the religious right’s views on gay people hateful because they are hateful. There is, for example, a substantial number of influential religious right figures who decry the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling striking down sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas – that is to say, they want to make it illegal for gay people to have sex. (See here; scroll down to the end of the article.) There are many instances where religious right groups have lobbied against laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (here is one example). There are widespread religious right efforts not just to outlaw gay marriage, but to outlaw adoption of children by gay couples. Even worse than that, the courts only recently struck down a law passed in Oklahoma that not only would have banned adoption by gay people, but would have broken up the pre-existing adoptive relationships of same-sex couples if they moved to or even traveled through Oklahoma. As Ed Brayton wrote, the law was “extraordinarily cruel” and would have legally made gay adoptive parents in Oklahoma “no different than strangers” when it came to, for example, authorizing medical care for a sick adoptive child, or even being allowed to see them in the hospital.

    In the face of this concerted effort to deny homosexuals a wide array of basic human rights, a few minor acts of charity wouldn’t balance the scales. Here’s a post from one of my favorite political blogs, In This Moment: Living with a target on your back. It sums up, much better than I ever could, how it feels to be a member of a minority whose mere existence the religious majority detests.

    And they aren’t out to impose their religion on us, either. Oh, they’d like to have us believe–really, really badly. Enough to be an annoyance sometimes…. But, to be honest, I don’t lie awake at night worrying about it. I don’t see that those beliefs will ever have a chance to be taken to their logical conclusion. There are too many watchdogs out there ready to howl at any sign religion might be crawling up into bed with government.

    With all due respect, that is exactly the kind of complacent outlook I created this site to warn against. Yes, there are a great many people and several excellent groups who have been vigilant in the defense of church-state separation. But that does not by any means imply that we have nothing to be concerned about, nor that we can consider the job safely done. The religious right does want to impose their religion on the rest of us, and they are always seeking new ways to tear down that long-established wall. Witness the numerous attempts at “court-stripping” that would deny watchdog groups the right to sue over constitutional violations, or serious discussion of impeaching federal judges whose decisions run contrary to the wishes of the religious right, or a bill recently introduced in the House (discussed in the latest issue of Freethought Today) that would deny watchdog groups the right to recover lawyers’ fees when they sue over a constitutional violation, the clear intent being to drive these groups into bankruptcy by repeated unconstitutional acts.

    I would add, also, that those beliefs already are being taken to their logical conclusion in many places. Do you know that, if you are a U.S. citizen, your tax dollars are already going into handouts for highly sectarian, discriminatory religious groups under the rubric of “faith-based initiatives”? Before the 2004 election, for example, Bush was openly courting large black churches that opposed him in 2000 by promising large government handouts to their leaders in exchange for their future support. In some cases, it worked.

    And, I suspect, most of even Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christendom doesn’t want that, either. They’re all too aware of rifts within their own ranks. They know if one sect got the upper hand, it would become somewhat, um, gloomy for the rest.

    That is an excellent argument for church-state separation. And, again with all due respect, it is exactly the kind of nuanced view that the modern religious right is incapable of grasping.

    Christianity really has shown an ability to wake up to reality when the evidence finally becomes overwhelming. Look at how it’s dragged it’s feet against scientific knowledge in the past… I’ve predicted that in 50 years the average believer who calls himself a Fundamentalist Christian will espouse at least some version of descent with modification. The evidence is just too strong to resist forever.

    I can’t agree with this, I’m afraid. That position presumes that religious believers are ultimately motivated by evidence, and I do not believe that is the case. The evidence for evolution is already overwhelmingly strong to any person who’s aware of it, as I hope you’ll agree. But that is simply irrelevant to religious believers, not least because most of them do not even know what that evidence consists of and are determined to remain in that state of ignorance. In 150 years, creationists have shown no inclination whatsoever to honestly study the case for evolution, and I don’t expect them to start now.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Hello Philip,

    I recognize that some atheists are pro-life, yes. For reference, I oppose elective abortion past the point of viability, except for legitimate medical reasons such as a serious risk to the mother’s life. But most of the religious right wants to make abortion illegal for every reason, rape not excluded, from the very moment of conception. That is a position which I consider cruel and absurd, especially when coupled with corresponding religious right efforts to ban all contraception. One could certainly make a case that a fetus with a developed brain deserves the rights and protections due to a human being, but I simply do not see how one could make the same argument for a microscopic ball of undifferentiated cells.

    Also, I would add that the idea of a late-term “abortion of convenience” is a religious right straw man. Fewer than 1% of abortions are performed after the 20th week of pregnancy, and most of those are for medical reasons such as severe fetal abnormalities. Having an abortion is not a matter to be dismissed lightly; it is a painful, difficult, and yes, sometimes even traumatic medical procedure, comparable to fairly invasive surgery. I strongly doubt that any woman would choose to have one lightly or on a whim.

  • SpeirM

    Well, Adam, I think this is going to boil down to a difference of political and social philisophy. Though not a Christian anymore, I still tend to be conservative. I see a lot of sense in the traditions handed down to us. Many of them have come into place for one simple reason: millennia of experience have shown they work. My position is, hold onto those until it’s proven they don’t anymore. Or, at least, until we find something better–and can prove we have. None of this social experimenting just to find out. What our reason tells us should work doesn’t always, especially in that realm. “Oops” won’t cut it when we’ve goofed and the fabric of society is in the balance.

    Yes, I’m aware of the things you mention. Of course Christians lobby to have things their way. So do we. It wouldn’t matter what position we took on anything, we’d be trying to press it onto others. And we’d have our reasons, too. Reasons sound enough to convince us, anyway. And why should we give ourselves a pass when it comes to the issue of bias? Bias is human.

    Please understand I’m not disagreeing with everything you say, or even the thrust of it. I’m aware of the problem. I complain about the potential for theocracy myself. It’s happened in the past; it could happen again. But I think you’re exaggerating it. You seem to be throwing out a few examples in an effort to stir everybody into a snit. Christians sometimes do the same thing. Ever hear their stories about persecution in this country? And there are some genuine examples of it, too. But it’s not the rule. And there is no trend.

    In the final analysis, you’re probably not going to have any choice but to live with some things you don’t like. Like I said, Christianity’s going to be around for a long time. You’re not going to get rid of it. Not even if every atheist on Earth banded together in that effort would we be able to. And as long as there are Christians, they’ll have their own interests at heart–just like we do. My suggestion is that we find a way to work with the problem. To borrow Christian metaphors, we should become salt and light. Reason, carefully applied, can be very illuminating and salty.

    It’s going to take a while. But unlike you, I really do think Christians are amenable to reason given enough time. Sometimes it takes generations. I see Christians departing from once-held beliefs in droves. Already, there seems to be a mass movement toward squaring their beliefs with an old Earth and evolution. We all debate them. I know you’ve run into the new trick about how Hell isn’t eternal torment, it’s just a rather tepid “separation from God.” No, that won’t wash, either; but obviously some Christians are doing some thinking and coming to rather striking conclusions in light of their dogmatic history. And these conclusions can only sap the steam from the zealots. Even they eventually have to abandon what doesn’t make sense.

    I’m not saying we’ll ever be free of zealots, theistic or atheistic. We have to be vigilant. They have, in times past, risen to such numbers as to be a real problem. It could happen again. Although our system discourages that, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. But I don’t consider the occasional contrary court case or the rise of the odd Fundamentalist senator or even President to be a cause for panic. Hey, Fundamentalists are part of our society, too! And what’s the likelihood a Republican President will be elected next time around? Even if one is, it’ll be the likes of a John McCain or Rudy Giuliani–certainly no religious fanatic. (McCain has been trying to appeal to religious conservatives of late, but that’s only because they’re such a powerful voting block. He doesn’t really seem to share their more fanatical views.) We’re probably going to have a President much less friendly to Christian Evangelicalism. How could that be if they’re really the threat you intimate? Doesn’t that demonstrate that they’re much less powerful than they are noisy?

    All that aside, most of the Christians I know are fine folks. They’re people I want to know and have around. I see them as a benefit to society. I’m not going to demonize them. (It’s hard to demonize people when you don’t believe in demons. [Okay, that was silly.]) We’re simply going to have to part company on this point. They aren’t my enemies.

  • Philip Thomas

    Adam, thanks for that clarification. I don’t think personhood begins at conception- or at birth (as I said), and the religous right in America seems to be trying its hardest to make the Pro-life case unappealing to ordinary people. I do think that when you are judging whether or not something is human you should be generous…

    If the foetus is judged to be human enough to posess a right to life, whether at 15 weeks, 22 weeks, or whatever, I do not see that any reason besides danger to the life of the mother or another human being is sufficient to abrogate that right. If the foetus isn’t human, the mother can terminate for whatever reason she likes.

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    I actually make the case that the positions on abortion should be reversed. Consider that to many of the religious, the soul exists at conception, and the aborted go directly to heaven. On the radio this week I heard a preacher explaining that his miscarried baby is waiting to be reunited in heaven with his family, as are all the aborted. So logically, the aborted missed out on what the religious generally considered a fallen and evil world, and went directly to heaven, without having to endure the faith test, with the horrible chance of spending an eternity in hell. Not to mention that the abortion doctor can ask forgiveness and also go to heaven. Should not the religious be supporting abortion?

    In contrast, as atheists we understand that this existence is our only one for all eternity. So we place very high value on this existence, and by extension the existence of others. I would argue that if anything is supreme to the atheist it is this.

    Human development begins at the point of conception, I don’t think anyone would argue with that. Human women don’t give birth to cats. We all are educated enough in biology to understand that nine months after conception there will be a crying baby, so I do not understand why we have to get caught up with trying to decide consciousness or viability. If anyone reading this post had been tampered with during early stages of his/her human development, that person would not be reading this post. You would have had your only shot at existence in all eternity taken from you. I simply do not understand how an atheist can support this.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    If anyone reading this post had been tampered with during early stages of his/her human development, that person would not be reading this post. You would have had your only shot at existence in all eternity taken from you. I simply do not understand how an atheist can support this.

    That same argument would also dictate that we ban contraception, so as not to deny any potential people their right to life. Do you likewise support that?

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    That same argument would also dictate that we ban contraception, so as not to deny any potential people their right to life. Do you likewise support that?

    There is no human development before conception. When the sperm and the egg unite then there is human development. It is not potential human development at that point – the train has left the station. That is why unlike trying to divine points of consciousness, viability, or feelings of pain – I argue that conception is a decisive break point.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I don’t think that argument accords with what you said in your previous comment. I’ll quote it again:

    If anyone reading this post had been tampered with during early stages of his/her human development, that person would not be reading this post. You would have had your only shot at existence in all eternity taken from you.

    If this is the reason why you oppose abortion of an embryo, even at the single-cell stage, there is no way to avoid the conclusion that this reason applies with exactly the same force to contraception. If the sperm and egg that united to become me had been tampered with or blocked, then, inarguably, I would not be here writing this. My “only shot at existence in all eternity”, to use your term, would still have been denied me – that is, if it makes sense to speak of denying something to a non-existent entity.

    I do not accept claims that something decisive happens at contraception, and I definitely deny claims that a person is thereby created. A single-celled embryo is not a human being in any meaningful sense, any more than a sperm and egg taken separately are a human being. The quality that defines a human being is the ability to engage in conscious thought, and I always think we should err on the side of caution in determining when that capability is present. That’s why I oppose abortion after the fetus’ brain has developed, except in extraordinary cases. But there is no realistic possibility that a microscopic cluster of cells possesses that ability.

  • Shawn Smith

    We are all educated enough in biology to understand that nine months after conception there will be a crying baby, …

    But in a not insignificant number of those conceptions, the pregnancy doesn’t come to term. I personally know two different women who had miscarriages–for one it was her first pregnancy, and the other her fifth pregnancy. Who knows how many conceptions don’t come to term–including the ones that don’t even implant in the uterus and appear to be just another menstrual cycle? So, do we put those women in prison for criminal neglect or manslaughter? What if they didn’t take all the actions that were medically possible but perhaps too expensive to prevent the miscarriage? That seems like a policy that would be far too difficult to enforce with any reliability or consistency.

    Before making sweeping, universal statements like after conception there will be a crying baby, please consider your words. If you were simply exaggerating for effect, I apologize for misunderstanding you.

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    I don’t think that argument accords with what you said in your previous comment. I’ll quote it again:

    “If anyone reading this post had been tampered with during early stages of his/her human development, that person would not be reading this post. You would have had your only shot at existence in all eternity taken from you.”

    I think it does accord with what I said. Note that I wrote “early stages of his/her human development”. Pre-conception is not human development. Human development starts with conception.

    I do not accept claims that something decisive happens at contraception, and I definitely deny claims that a person is thereby created.

    I argue that indeed something decisive does happen at conception. We are no longer talking about separate bits of genetic material and the astronomical odds that it all came together in a certain way since the beginning of time – we are talking actual human development and a baby in nine months. It’s a done deal.

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    But in a not insignificant number of those conceptions, the pregnancy doesn’t come to term. I personally know two different women who had miscarriages–for one it was her first pregnancy, and the other her fifth pregnancy. Who knows how many conceptions don’t come to term–including the ones that don’t even implant in the uterus and appear to be just another menstrual cycle? So, do we put those women in prison for criminal neglect or manslaughter?

    I have no idea why you would put them in prison and don’t recall writing anything of the kind. How is a miscarriage as you describe equal to abortion? Also I have made no comment about how to deal with the issue of abortion in the social system. Because I don’t have a great answer of how to deal with it. Wish I did. I do think that it is time for atheists to take the lead and wrestle this thing away from the religious. A good start would be the atheist educating others on the incredible value of human existence in this world – not a supernatural afterlife. Of all people the atheist could be most adept at making this argument.

    Before making sweeping, universal statements like after conception there will be a crying baby, please consider your words. If you were simply exaggerating for effect, I apologize for misunderstanding you.

    It’s OK but I meant what I wrote. The discussion is over an active intervention called abortion. Of course we understand that not all pregnancies make it to term for various reasons that have nothing to do with intervention. But otherwise yes – there will be a crying baby. I have two of them and delivered one at home with my own hands – they cry. I am still in awe over the whole thing. By the way if you contract with a midwife, make sure she actually arrives BEFORE the birth:)

  • Philip Thomas

    It is central to theistic morality that the after life (especially for others) is never taken into account when making moral decisions in this life… This may be illogical but it is also standard. As for forgiveness, just because something can be forgiven doesn’t mean you should do it, indeed rather the reverse!

    The abortion problem is essentially a conflict of two human beings. So the question arises, what is a human being? If the foetus is not a human being, then the mother can act as she pleases. Now, how does define a human being? I used to adopt a very simple pair of principles: a human being had to be a) human and b) alive. From conception the foetus is clearly alive. But is it human? It has human DNA. Unfortunately the same is true of a cheek swab, or of organs being stored for transplant (they meet the scientific criteria for life). Since neither of those are human beings, some other criteria are needed…I think a human being needs to have a conscious mind. As Adam had demonstrated, the mind requires a brain to operate. And the foetus does not develop a brain instantly on conception…

  • Oz

    I think the dividing point is somewhere between birth and conception as well, but I would err on the side of caution in making my decision.

    Also, Adam, why should abortion from a rape be any different? If it’s wrong to abort a fetus after point X, why would it matter that the father is a rapist? The baby is innocent. Abort the rapist instead.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Ah – I think I haven’t phrased my position clearly. Once the fetus’ brain develops to the point where it is plausibly capable of thought, I am opposed to abortion, other than in truly exceptional circumstances such as an urgent risk to the life of the mother. My point in bringing up rape was not to suggest that there is an intrinsic difference between an embryo conceived by rape and an embryo conceived by consensual sex, but to point out the cruelty of a position that would outlaw abortion from the moment of conception even in cases of rape, as some members of the religious right desire. That position would assert that a woman’s consent is irrelevant when it comes to controlling her own body, a horrifying assertion that would essentially make women little more than slaves.

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    The abortion problem is essentially a conflict of two human beings. So the question arises, what is a human being? If the foetus is not a human being, then the mother can act as she pleases. Now, how does define a human being? I used to adopt a very simple pair of principles: a human being had to be a) human and b) alive. From conception the foetus is clearly alive. But is it human? It has human DNA. Unfortunately the same is true of a cheek swab, or of organs being stored for transplant (they meet the scientific criteria for life). Since neither of those are human beings, some other criteria are needed…I think a human being needs to have a conscious mind. As Adam had demonstrated, the mind requires a brain to operate. And the foetus does not develop a brain instantly on conception…

    My view is that abortion is essentially about human existence. Not primarily a competing rights issue as in your “conflict of two human beings”. I argue that to the atheist, for reasons already given, we should be looking at the issue with this understanding.

    Human development begins at conception. It is not necessary to try and divine when consciousness supposedly occurs. Destruction of human development one second before or one second after consciousness has the same result. The key I think is to acknowledge human development because that is concrete, we know when it begins, and we know there is a baby nine months later. I argue that of the many ways to look at this issue, this makes the most sense, and given this is a discussion among atheists, I contend that we should support the existence argument.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that atheists who have thought about the subject usually reject on-demand abortion, and then try to find some compromise by playing around with attempts to decide consciousness, viability, or pain. Sagan and Dawkins have tried this. Aside from the changing nature and difficulty of identification, the most significant problem in my view is that these attempts all involve a mental disconnect regarding the result. And the result is not in question.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    EnigmaofSteel states: “Human development begins at the point of conception, I don’t think anyone would argue with that. Human women don’t give birth to cats.”

    True, to a point. If things continue as they are, my six year old will one day be a teenager, but that doesn’t mean that he should go get his license. Because something will be something else one day, doesn’t make it that thing now. A fetus may become a baby, but it is not one yet. Do not confuse the two.

    My dividing line is simple. If the baby can survive outside it’s mother, it should, if it can’t, then it is a part of the mother and she has a right to decide what to do with it. A fetus, even one with a developed brain, cannot be allowed to live as a parasite to another human against that person’s will. Biologically, a fetus is a tumor. Should we force a woman to endure a tumor, even for nine months?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    When I look at the abortion debate, I ask myself this question: why do we have so many unwanted pregnancies? Abortion is just the symptom of a disease. Many of these unwanted pregnancies could be avoided through birth control and comprehensive sex-education. I blame the religious right for their obstructionist ways when it comes to contraception. I’ve never understood how someone can be against abortion and then also against contraception. The later can eliminate the former.

    I think it comes down to the theist notion that only God can control life. That he is the final decider (good GWB word, BTW *smile*) of when we are born and when we should die. And if only God is allowed to decide, then I am not. There can be no true freedom as long as “God” gets to decide what is best for me.

  • Philip Thomas

    Enigmaofsteel: maybe…

    Unbeliever: A foetus is not a tumour: the differences are readily apparent. I see no great difference between a human being inside another human being’s body and a human being outside. I’m sure it would be very convenient if we could kill any human being we liked, but that road leads to worse things…

    As for contraception, the first point is that many contraceptive devices have an abortive element: that is they prevent the pregnancy by termination after conception. Clearly, if you believe that there should be no abortion at all, these devices are unacceptable. Then there is the so called “user failure rate” for non-abortive contraception (possibly mythical, but part of their worldview). While I support widespread sex education and contraception, these measures will not eliminate abortion overnight.

    Many theists stess the importance of human free will: I decide what is best for me, though I may have the embarassment of ending up in hell if that is what I chose.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Philip states, “A foetus is not a tumour: the differences are readily apparent. I see no great difference between a human being inside another human being’s body and a human being outside. I’m sure it would be very convenient if we could kill any human being we liked, but that road leads to worse things”

    A tumor is a mass of cells that grow to form tissues foreign and sometimes dangerous to the host body. A fetus is also a form of parasite. In most instances these tumors or parasites are welcome events, but for many it is a terrible thing.

    And I never said that we should kill any human being we liked. If you come in the middle of the night to steal my kidney, even you will die without it, I have every right to defend myself and kill you. That is what a abortion is. A person exercising her right to not have have her body taken hostage and used against her will by another “human being.” Every human (even a developing one) has a right to life, but not if that life can only be achieved by living at the expense of another.

  • Montu

    I think the question of abortion is much more complicated then just when a life starts and sex education. For one thing, the question that is never asked in this conversation is why two people were having sex, unless we’re talking about rape. I think it’s safe to say that most of the time, when two people are having sex, it’s NOT to have children, even in the most loving, devoted and child-friendly marriages. We all know that sex is a very important part of a loving relationship, there’s simply no way of getting around this fact. However, you hear many people say that if you’re not willing to deal with the consequences of sex (even if you used a form of birth control and it failed, which it DOES DO, Philip), then don’t have sex. To me, this seems like an equally absurd demand because of how important sex is to a good relationship, and couple this with new studies showing that sex improves the health and mental well-being of both partners, it makes it difficult to deny this from someone.

    At which point you’re going to say that this is where good sex-education and easily available birth control come in. This is exactly the point where I see the conversation getting very complicated. Personally, I have a big problem with birth control. My issue isn’t with the CONCEPT of birth control, but rather with the CHEMICALS that birth control are made of, and what that does to a woman’s body. Any woman who’s been on BC will tell you about the various symptoms they’ve had, from bloating and weight gain, to irritability and mood swings, and because we want to have sex without getting pregnant, we except this as a way of life, and try to work around it. But these are not the only side effects of birth control. BC has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, and just recently, the birth control shot has been shown to strip large amounts of calcium from women’s bones, causing them to loose bone density that can never be gained back. I’m not an expert on the subject, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were many more side effects that were just as bad, if not worse. And because of these side effects, many women choose not to put these chemicals in their bodies. But at this point, we have few alternatives. Condoms work, but they break. A woman can’t get her tubes tied unless she has already had a child or is getting near menopause because we as a society value child rearing to highly that we believe that every woman should want to have a child. This leaves women who wish not to take part in the chemical form of birth control venerable.

    There is another aspect of the conversation that seems to be ignored a lot. Not all women want to be mothers. Some of us simply do not have the mothering instinct in us, yet we don’t want to see our offspring put up for adoption, either. To me, this is worse then ending a cluster of cells from becoming a person. And, just because a child comes into the world does not mean that it’s going to live a happy life and be loved. If a WOMAN has the foresight to know this, to know that she’s incapable of giving her child a happy and loving life, then to me, it seems that she’s doing a service to the child by not bringing it into the world.

    Now, I’m not advocating abortion as a form of birth control, though it may seem that way. I’m just trying to point out some different parts of the argument that, from my experience, have been either ignored or pushed off to the side. I do think that every precaution should be taken if a woman doesn’t want to become pregnant, and birth control should be part of that, but I think the medical community needs to work on making less dangerous forms of BC. I also think that society should except that not all women are capable of being mothers, and thus put less pressure on us to become mothers, regardless of how we became with child. And because of this, I think abortion should be made available to us, because women don’t have abortions lightly. There are many reasons that she walks into that office and asks for that procedure, and I think foresight for the child’s future is the number one reason. Mistakes happen. People are going to have sex, and there’s going to be unwanted pregnancies, and there’s going to be people who become pregnant, who tried not to, who are simply unable or unwilling to care for a child. As Adam mentioned, less then 1% of abortions are performed after the second trimester, a woman knows much earlier then that that she’s pregnant and what’s good for her and her potential child. I think it’s time for people to let go of the rhetorical bullshit and trust that a woman is making the right choice when she gets an abortion.

  • Philip Thomas

    I am not a doctor, but I can readily see that foetuses are not tumours from the different treatment doctors give them: nor does it seem that doctors have any difficulty telling the difference.

    Occasionally the foetus threatens the life of the mother: then it should be terminated. Before a certain stage it is not a human being, and the mother can do what she likes with her body. But if it is a human being and not threatening a human life.

    “If you come in the middle of the night to steal my kidney, even if you will die without it, I have every right to defend myself and kill you.” So you do. But the analogy is faulty on many levels, of which the two most important are 1) I could survive just as well with someone else’s kidney and 2) Removing your kidney would do permanent and serious damage to you.

    I will respond with another analogy: Imagine two Siamese Twins, joined together in such a way that the weaker is dependent upon the life of the stronger. The stronger is told by the doctors that if they seperate now the weaker one will die and he (or she) will live, but if they wait for a few months they should be able to save both twins. They admit that waiting will be unpleasant for him. In such a case I consider that the stronger twin should opt to postpone the operation…

  • Philip Thomas

    Montu:Ok, contraception fails, sorry.

    Many unwanted children exist in this world. Would you kill them all?

    Well before the 2nd trimester the foetus has a head and possibly a developed brain. Besides, if you think abortions shouldn’t happen after the 2nd trimester, you shouldn’t be rejoicing that only 60,000 out of 6,000,000 abortions are after 2nd trimester, you should be tryign to make post 2nd trimester abortions illegal!

  • Montu

    I think women should be allowed that choice before the FETUS is born. But Philip, you’re purposly neglecting the rest of the post, and pulling out only those parts that you think you can easily defend.

    Let me put it to you like this: I would get an abortion if I became pregnant, and I would do it without looking back. Why? Because I know for a fact that I would beat my child because I don’t have the tolorance for crying or insubordination. I have a very difficult time relating to children, and I would much rather be doing anything else but spending time with a child, of any age. Do I sound like I would make a good mother? I hope your answer is no. I know this about myself. I also know that this doesn’t make me a bad person, but it would make me a very bad mother, and I don’t want to do this to another person. Why put a child and myself in this position, into a lifetime of pain, anguish and guilt when it can be avoided before it began? Though I’m taking precations to prevent myself from becoming pregnant, I know that it’s possible, no matter how careful I am. But, as I’ve mentioned before, most doctors wont tie a woman’s tubes unless they’re near menopaus or have had a child, so I’m stuck relying on harmful chemicals and thin plastic wrappers, both of which are not 100% reliable.

    I’m purposly using myself as an example because, though I’ve never had an abortion, the one thing that I’ve always resented about the pro choice/life conversation is that it uses hypothetical women who become pregnant in a bubble, and it’s assumed that they would otherwise make good mothers. This conversation also turns these hypothetical women into monsters if they choose to have an abortion because it does not focus on the woman, but rather the thing she’s carrying inside her. What I want you to see is that this is not about hypothetical women, and they don’t become pregnant in a bubble. There are REAL PEOPLE behind this conversation, adults who know fully the consiquences of their actions, one way or the other, but have chosen this method for very real reasons. And if you want to talk about motherhood, one of the biggest responsibilities a mother has is to do what is best for her child, and sometimes that means not allowing it to become a child in the first place. Does this make her a monster? My answer would be no, but I know that not everyone would agree.

  • Philip Thomas

    Hi Montu. The key point is that, if you wouldn’t kill a human being just because it was unwanted (which I presume, from your silence), then you need to work out at what point the foetus becomes a human being. Now, from your rhetoric I assume you think birth. So, obviously abortion is fine from your perspective. I put the transition some months before birth, so obviously abortions after that transition point are unacceptable for me. The question of whether or not the mother could care for the baby is a red herring, unless you are prepared to argue that when parents cannot look after their children the correct procedure is to kill the children.

    I do not think choosing to have an abortion makes a woman a monster. It is a very difficult and traumatic decision.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Philip,

    Obviously, a fetus is not a tumor in the medical sense, but they do share many characteristics. A fetus is probably more closely related to a parasite.

    As for my “flawed” analogy, you are mistaken. Only my kidney may be a match for you. And without a perfect match, you will die. Also, I can live without my kidney. So there is no real lasting damage other than a scar. If you prefer, we could subsitute blood for a kidney. If you are dying and I am the only person with a matching blood type, can you demand that I give you my blood? Does it belong to me or does your need override my rights to my body?

    I agree that with your belief that the healthy conjoined twin sould postpone surgery to save his brother, but what I believe is irrelavent. A fundamental aspect of freedom is doing what you think is right even if others disagree with you. The dying twin has a right to live, but not to use the state to allow him to live off his brother.

  • Philip Thomas

    Well, tbe way you told the story it seemed you were being attacked in the middle of the night by somebody wielding a knife and attempting to remove your kidney… If the situation is one of a peaceful request then obviously you should grant it, but the law shouldn’t punish you if you don’t. As in abortion, the mother should keep the embryo alive, but the law shouldn’t punish her if she doesn’t: the position of the abortionist is another story.

    Freedom is about doing what you choose to do, whether it is ‘right’ or not is not interesting. But in any case there are limits to freedom: people are not free to kill other people.

    The “dying twin” isn’t dying, he just can’t survive if seperated now. The state is not involved in the story at all…and in any case I was focusing on the choice of the stronger twin, presuming the weaker one to be unable to communicate on the subject.

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    EnigmaofSteel states: “Human development begins at the point of conception, I don’t think anyone would argue with that. Human women don’t give birth to cats.”

    True, to a point. If things continue as they are, my six year old will one day be a teenager, but that doesn’t mean that he should go get his license. Because something will be something else one day, doesn’t make it that thing now. A fetus may become a baby, but it is not one yet. Do not confuse the two.

    Looking at what you quoted, I don’t see it shows that I confused the two. I haven’t used the term fetus, and wouldn’t equate that stage of human development with what we think of as a baby. Human women give birth to human babies, nothing controversial about that. Unless someone is trying to turn human development into something else …

    My dividing line is simple. If the baby can survive outside it’s mother, it should, if it can’t, then it is a part of the mother and she has a right to decide what to do with it. A fetus, even one with a developed brain, cannot be allowed to live as a parasite to another human against that person’s will. Biologically, a fetus is a tumor. Should we force a woman to endure a tumor, even for nine months?

    I do not accept this tumor argument. The attempt is to focus on a certain quality to the exclusion of others, so as to equate two dissimilar things, in order to treat them the same for purposes of argument. Problem is both things are not the same. Human development is not a tumor. Or as the California Governor said: “It’s not a tuma.”:)

    Reading your other post, if I am understanding correctly that you are also equating human development to a disease, I object for the same reason.

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    There is another aspect of the conversation that seems to be ignored a lot. Not all women want to be mothers. Some of us simply do not have the mothering instinct in us, yet we don’t want to see our offspring put up for adoption, either. To me, this is worse then ending a cluster of cells from becoming a person. And, just because a child comes into the world does not mean that it’s going to live a happy life and be loved. If a WOMAN has the foresight to know this, to know that she’s incapable of giving her child a happy and loving life, then to me, it seems that she’s doing a service to the child by not bringing it into the world.

    Is there something about adoption of which I am unaware? Do the adopted lead such dismal lives that the practice of adoption should be stopped? Are the adopted wishing that their development had been terminated, sacrificing their only existence in all eternity? I think you will find that when looked at rationally, adoption is a legitimate practice.

    Also unless someone has a crystal ball, I know of no way of having “foresight” such that one can predict for certain how a life will unfold. For this reason I do not view abortion as the “service” you describe.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Enigma states: “Reading your other post, if I am understanding correctly that you are also equating human development to a disease, I object for the same reason.”

    But that is exactly how a woman’s body treats a developing fetus. Some women have such aggressive immune systems, that they will always miscarry. Their body rejects the fetus, considering it foreign tissue, which it is.

    I have a son, whom I love dearly, that my life carried for 8 1/2 months. She endured terrible nausea, leg pain, back pain, headaches, high blood pressure, and just managed to avoid being bed-ridden for the last month or so of the pregnancy. But she did all this willingly.

    That is the difference. A person should be able to make terrible sacrifices for what she believes is important, just as my wife did. But you should never force someone to make a terrible sacrifice for something that you believe is important. How is that anything but slavery?

  • Philip Thomas

    There are certainly circumstances in which some people should force others to make sacrifices for important things: war is the most obvious example (where the war is in self-defence, of course).

    However, restricting abortion does not come into this category. The pregnant woman has to make a terrible sacrifice one way or the other: either the life of the child or the suffering needed to bring it to term. Restrictions on abortion simply close one option, on the excellent grounds that the no-one has any right to choose death for another human being where there is an alternative which does not involve human death.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Philip,

    So you are in favor of a draft if the US is attacked? I think that a draft is inherently undemocratic and an affront to freedom.

    So if I am dying because my kidneys are failing and you are the only one who is a match for me, I should be able to force you to give me one of your kidneys? Because that is exactly in line with what you are proposing.

    And yes, either way a sacrifice must be made, but I want the decision of which one to be hers.

  • Philip Thomas

    I don’t have a fixed view on the necessity or otherwise of a draft if the USA is attacked, especially as I happen to be a subject of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. But in wartime the leaders have to be prepared to issue orders which put lives at risk, and to see those orders obeyed. Hence the death penalty for mutiny or desertion in active service.

    You support the War on Terror: that involves some sacrifice ordered by leaders from their people.

    The state should not intervene to prevent organ transfer. Nor should it intervene to prevent pregnancy continuing. If a private party other than the individuals concerened intervenes (by prevention), they may be guilty of murder and the state should deal with that appropriately

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    But that is exactly how a woman’s body treats a developing fetus. Some women have such aggressive immune systems, that they will always miscarry. Their body rejects the fetus, considering it foreign tissue, which it is.

    If there is a situation where a particular woman’s body rejects a developing fetus, it should not be extrapolated to turn human development into a disease. I would recommend looking at it for what it is – human development. Not trying to equate it to a disease or tumor.

    I have a son, whom I love dearly, that my life carried for 8 1/2 months. She endured terrible nausea, leg pain, back pain, headaches, high blood pressure, and just managed to avoid being bed-ridden for the last month or so of the pregnancy. But she did all this willingly.

    As an atheist, I understand this is my only existence for all eternity. I place incredible value on this existence, and by extension the existence of others. If there were significant pregnancy related health concerns regarding a woman, then it would be in keeping with this view to consider abortion. Regardless of this discussion, I think your wife’s decision regarding the pregnancy, in spite of the threats to her health, is an example of what is best in people.

    That is the difference. A person should be able to make terrible sacrifices for what she believes is important, just as my wife did. But you should never force someone to make a terrible sacrifice for something that you believe is important. How is that anything but slavery?

    In this discussion I have not advocated forcing anyone to do anything, rather I have argued what a person should do, specifically pointing out what is rational in light of our atheism. I am trying to arrive at a position for atheists regarding abortion. I have given argument why I consider certain positions irrational or rational in keeping with our atheism.

    Certainly as stated previously, I do not have all the answers concerning implementation in a social system. But I do think one of the key ingredients is to begin by advocating for the incredible value of our existence, something we as atheists are uniquely qualified to do, particularly as we don’t have an eternal afterlife to fall back on.

  • Bechamel

    Questions for those atheists who believe abortion should be illegal:

    It seems self-evident to me that existence is a value-neutral item: it can be positive or negative, depending upon your actions, the actions of others, and happenings beyond the control of anyone. And it also seems obvious that non-existence is value-neutral (since a non-existent entity, by definition, can experience nothing, whether good or bad).

    As such, I call on those who are arguing that our only “chance” for existence should be preserved at all costs, to defend their premise that one value-neutral state (existence) is intrinsically better than another value-neutral state (non-existence), to such a degree of certainty that someone who makes that decision for a not-yet-thinking being has committed an act worthy of being considered unethical or illegal.

    Most people frown on killing another living thing without reason (and rightly so, it would seem). However, most people also have no problem with killing living things that they believe to pose a threat to them. For example, a housefly, a bee, or a mosquito could easily be carrying any number of germs, viruses, pain-inflicting body parts or chemicals, or other unpleasantries, so it’s generally not considered unethical to swat said pests. Likewise, there seems to be no major contingent of non-whackjobs calling for an end to mousetraps or rat poison, which can also serve to keep possibly-disease-bearing animals from diminishing our quality of life.

    Thus, if one can kill a mosquito or a mouse to keep from getting a disease that will haunt one for perhaps a couple of weeks, and perhaps for the rest of one’s life, why is it unethical to kill an early-development fetus to prevent the illnesses of pregnancy and the risks of childbirth? (As far as I know, it’s still much more dangerous to the health and life of the mother to give birth than to have an abortion.)

    The only reason that seems to be brought up is the right to life of the embryo/fetus/whatever stage it happens to be at. For that argument to stand, two issues must be resolved: 1) What makes that potentially-disease-or-death-inducing embryo/fetus/whatever any more worthy of life than a potentially-disease-or-death-inducing rat or mosquito that happened to find its way into my home? and 2) If your answer to the first question is one of potentiality, why are you not outraged over all of the potential lives that are caught in condoms, killed by spermicides, or fail to implant for whatever reason, be it “natural” or chemically induced? What about the fact that the rhythm method is quite possibly a bigger killer of fertilized eggs? Is that also unethical?

    Oh, and re:

    I argue that indeed something decisive does happen at conception [...] we are talking actual human development and a baby in nine months. It’s a done deal.

    Um, no, it’s not. If my self-education is anywhere near accurate, the proportion of fertilized eggs that fail to implant is in the range of 50-80%. Somehow, I consider a chance of less than 50/50 to be far from a done deal. Now, are those millions of “deaths” each year as undesirable as the deaths of the already-self-aware? Should we halt research into cancer or heart disease, so we can deal with this recurring grand-scale tragedy?

  • Philip Thomas

    Hi Bechamel. You probably missed it in all the arguing, but my position is precisely that not-yet-thinking beings can be terminated and thinking ones should not be. Of course, there’s room for interpretation over when a being starts thinking.

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    I argue that indeed something decisive does happen at conception […] we are talking actual human development and a baby in nine months. It’s a done deal.

    Um, no, it’s not. If my self-education is anywhere near accurate, the proportion of fertilized eggs that fail to implant is in the range of 50-80%. Somehow, I consider a chance of less than 50/50 to be far from a done deal. Now, are those millions of “deaths” each year as undesirable as the deaths of the already-self-aware? Should we halt research into cancer or heart disease, so we can deal with this recurring grand-scale tragedy?

    I already addressed this in the thread but will briefly again. The issue is abortion – as in the active intervention to end human development. We understand that not all pregnancies progress for various natural reasons. But in terms of abortion it is indeed a done deal, when the sperm joins with the egg we have human development, and nine months later a baby. Acting under the illusion that we do not understand this is irrational. Regarding medical funding, money is currently spent on both post-natal issues and pre-natal care. Again it is spent on pre-natal care because we understand human development and acknowledge the implications.

    Thus, if one can kill a mosquito or a mouse to keep from getting a disease that will haunt one for perhaps a couple of weeks, and perhaps for the rest of one’s life, why is it unethical to kill an early-development fetus to prevent the illnesses of pregnancy and the risks of childbirth? (As far as I know, it’s still much more dangerous to the health and life of the mother to give birth than to have an abortion.)

    Human development is not an illness. What’s with these continued odd analogies – mosquitoes, tumors, etc?

    It seems self-evident to me that existence is a value-neutral item: it can be positive or negative, depending upon your actions, the actions of others, and happenings beyond the control of anyone. And it also seems obvious that non-existence is value-neutral (since a non-existent entity, by definition, can experience nothing, whether good or bad).

    I have noticed that most people cling to this existence, which would be strange if it were value neutral. If equally positive or negative, it seems to me that half the worlds population would be voluntarily ending it. Looking around, the evidence doesn’t seem to support your claim. To the atheist this existence is the ultimate scarcity, since we understand this is our only existence for all eternity. But I guess we could take a poll here – a show of hands for those who think their existence here on earth is a negative and would rather not exist?

  • Bechamel

    But in terms of abortion it is indeed a done deal, when the sperm joins with the egg we have human development, and nine months later a baby. Acting under the illusion that we do not understand this is irrational.

    In any terms, we will have a baby in nine months less than half the time. I don’t call that a done deal, and you’re asserting that this is irrational on my part?

    Human development is not an illness. What’s with these continued odd analogies – mosquitoes, tumors, etc?

    Perhaps that they exhibit many of the same symptoms, like pain, nausea, vomiting, and the possibility of severe complications, perhaps death. The similarities are striking. It seems as though you’re using your own incredulity to avoid some legitimate questions.

    I have noticed that most people cling to this existence, which would be strange if it were value neutral.

    Those would be the people that have been alive and conscious for quite some time, most of whom have put in quite a bit of work to make their existence favorable for themselves. My guess is that one of the big reasons that people are so protective of their lives is that they’ve put in so much work and are in the process of reaping the rewards of said work, such that dying would be thought of as cheating them out of what they’ve earned. On the other hand, it seems that life-hating is much more common among those of around high-school age, which would make sense under my hypothesis, as people at that age have much more work to put in before reaping the rewards of an established life.

    But, for someone who hasn’t started along that path, I still assert that it’s a value-neutral proposition, with the chances for great pleasure and satisfaction, as well as great suffering. I would also speculate that those who think life is particularly great are the ones who have best utilized the coping mechanism of counting the hits and forgetting the misses.

    Oh well, I doubt either of us is going to change anyone’s mind here, so this is likely all I’ll have to say on the matter.

  • Philip Thomas

    I think we need to distinguish between existence/non-existence and life/death. Existing or non-existing may be value neutral, but living is better than dying. This is reflected in the Universal Moral Code: killing people is generally wrong…

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Enigma states: “Human development is not an illness. What’s with these continued odd analogies – mosquitoes, tumors, etc?”

    Human development may not be an illness, but pregnancy certainly has all the signs of one. A pregnancy can involve great hardship, pain, incapacitation, and, in some cases, permanent injury or death.

    Do you really want to force that upon anyone?

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Philip states: “You support the War on Terror: that involves some sacrifice ordered by leaders from their people.”

    Yes, but soldiers volunteer for this duty. As I said, one should be allowed to make great sacrifices if that is their choice. You want to force others to do what you think is right.

    BTW, sorry for assuming that you were American. In the UK that may be considered somewhat of an insult, but over here it is a great compliment. ;-)

  • Philip Thomas

    Thankyou for the compliment then. I’m glad you didn’t think I was French!

    The War on Terror (like most wars) requires sacrifices of civilians who didn’t volunteer for them, more over once you have volunteered for the army you can’t suddenly desert or disobey orders…

    I want to prevent others from killing fellow human beings. I suppose in a way that is forcing them to do what I think is right. I make no apology for that.

  • Azkyroth

    The checkbox is cute.

    While I’ve always loathed the fallacious claim that direct experience of something is required to comment on it (“you haven’t been through it so you don’t understand”), I must say that a couple of the arguments on this topic seem to be characterized by a singular and inexplicable lack of empathy for pregnant and potentially pregnant women. Phillip and Enigma’s arguments are unfortunately running together in my mind, due to my lack of sleep, so I’ll respond to them individually once I have the chance.

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    Phillip and Enigma’s arguments are unfortunately running together in my mind, due to my lack of sleep, so I’ll respond to them individually once I have the chance.

    Ahh sleep – I remember it well. Seems like I haven’t had a decent night of it since my kids showed up. I was just saying to my wife the other day, how ironic that we expend so much energy trying to get the kids to take naps and go to sleep on time, and in our younger days we were the same way – but now I could only wish for someone to demand I take a nap!

    It seems that due to the length of the thread, possibly some things are being asked that were already answered, and there are some interesting points. I hope to get to some of this stuff over the weekend as workload is killing me next two days. What are chances my team lead will add nap time to the project plan?;)


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