[Turing 2013] Christian Entry #4

This is the fourth entry in the Christian round of the 2013 Ideological Turing Test.  This year, atheists and Christians responded to questions about sex, death, and literature.  

 

Polyamory

The purpose of sacramental marriage is to bring people together in a complete union (that is, they become one) that will serve the purposes of mutual support, procreation and service to God. This provides all sacramentally married people with the kind of love and relationship-based care that enriches and fulfills their lives, and it ensures that future generations both exist and thrive in the context of a stable, lifelong parental relationship. This type of marriage is a natural institution based upon both human nature, as it is common to all of humanity, and on divine teleology, as most of us (with some exceptions for those who have taken vows of celibacy and others) are bound by the Bible and by our needs as humans to be fruitful and multiply and to bind with another person.

The kind of union that, by human nature and purpose, leads both to a romantic, stable relationship and the production of children is an exclusive union, one that is fidelitous romantically, sexually and emotionally, and lasts an entire lifetime. A nonfidelitous relationship, or one that ends, cannot be a sacramental marriage, because it is not the complete binding of people to each other; rather, it is partial or temporary. Furthermore, much as I struggle with this in the light of changing social mores, it does seem clear that a teleologically consistent view of human nature requires a union to be between a man and a woman; maleness and femaleness complement each other, and a union between them creates a relationship that encompasses the fullness of human qualities. Also, it is a union between a man and a woman that results in the creation of children.

So where does polyamory come in? By its nature, a polyamorous relationship involves more than one person of at least one sex, which does not serve the purpose of the creation of children, nor the purpose of binding people of differing human qualities. Further, polyamorous relationships that involve changing partners or adding partners is not a stable, fidelitous union. Only the case of group marriage or similar relationships come close, but while I will not do polyamorists, some of whom I call my friends, the dishonor of calling their relationships intrinsically more unstable, it does seem more likely that such relationships would disband.

While it is my understanding of God and His will for us that leads me to these conclusions, I think that through reason, anyone could come to the same understanding, based on human history and the properties of human nature that we can observe.

I have relatively few opinions about the role of civil marriage. Given that it is a civil institution, it should exist in the form that best serves the people and the state. Given the world we currently live in, it seems like a bad idea to allow polyamorous marriage. It would be enormously complex bureaucratically, it would allow for tremendous abuses and fraud, and human history has shown that polyamory generally means polygyny, in which one man has many female partners, which usually does not lead to a just and egalitarian society.

 

Euthanasia

It is never permissible to end a life. The argument generally given for euthanasia is that it prevents pain and suffering and is thus morally permissible. This argument assumes that the existence of pain and suffering in human life overrides the sanctity and dignity of human life, which it most certainly does not. Such an argument would make suicide not just morally permissible in some cases, but even obligatory, a morally abhorrent result. In fact, if this consequentialism is taken to its logical conclusion, there are cases in which killing someone who is in excruciating pain, even if they have not requested it, could be morally permissible. The only way to consistently advocate for life is to hold that the dignity and sanctity of life are inviolable. Older or disabled people have the same dignity and sanctity as anyone else, and their lives must be respected no less than that of anyone in any other stage of life. At no other time would we ever declare it morally permissible to kill someone simply because they are in pain, even if they request it. Holding the dignity of life constant across people means treating the elderly or disabled in precisely the same way.

The moral difference between intervening to kill and not actively extending life exists, but is small. In almost all cases, it is an absolute medical moral obligation to prevent death by any means necessary, whether active or passive. Restricting necessary medical care from a sick person which results in death is just as much murder as an overdose of morphine or a gunshot. However, if a person is a the very end of their life, having been given all of the necessary medical care up until that point, and an extension of their life would be unnatural (not in the sense that it doesn’t exist in nature, but as above, against the nature of humans) and/or would lead to an extension of life that was only minute and painful, there is no obligation (though it is not forbidden) to extend their life in such a way. An example of an unnatural act of this kind would be the freezing that is involved in cryonics, since this is an act intended to avoid death altogether, and thus defy God’s plan for us. An example of a minute and painful life extension would be a defibrillation that had occurred after several others that would lead to a pained few minutes. At that point, it is time for that person to die naturally and there is no obligation to extend their suffering further to no good effect.

 

You can vote on whether you think these answers were written by a Christian or an Atheist here.  Comments are open to discuss the substance of the post and for speculation about the true beliefs of the author, so please vote before looking at the comments.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • EMMilco

    If this is not a Catholic, then it’s an extremely good impersonation of one. Which isn’t to say that I like the tone or the lack of critical self-examination, but I think the faults of this entry (especially in marriage issues) are endemic in the Catholic population. “Very Likely Christian” “Reasonably Coherent” “Leaves a bad taste in my mouth”

    • Brendan Hodge

      See, one of my assumptions is that Leah’s panel will consist primarily of moderately thoughtful people who are good at expressing their own opinions. So it seems to me that a real Catholic on Leah’s panel probably would do a better job than this.

      I’m going likely atheist.

      • Brutus

        I’m assuming that most of the atheists will come from the Rationalist community, and most of the Christians will come from the Patheos community, or other clusters that are inherently Christian.

      • Slow Learner

        I disagree – I’ve seen much worse jobs elsewhere on the Patheos channel; this comes across as a painfully orthodox Christian, probably Catholic, who isn’t too hot on medical ethics.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        In what way does this fail you as Catholic? Seems to me it’s almost textbook- in fact, I think I read both of those essays in my e-mail in the last couple of weeks (I subscribe to the Flocknote “Read the Catechism in a year” e-mails) and I almost suspect it as being the control of the survey. —-edited. After reading further, I see what you’re talking about.

    • Guest

      Probably not a Catholic, actually. Any Catholic would have been taught that there are three callings in life: married life, single life, and religious life/priesthood. Catholics believe that some people are called to be single. Thus, there is nothing inherently wrong with the single life. “Bound by the Bible” to marry (with a few exceptions) does not sound like Catholic writing.

      Conversely, the author is probably not a protestant because of the reference to “sacramental marriage.” I’m fairly ignorant on Orthodox views on singleness versus marriage, but my hunch is that the writer is an Atheist who did a fairly good job but erred on a small detail.

      • KL

        The referencing of sacramental marriage coupled with the “bound by the Bible” line stuck out to me as well, not only for its clash with traditional Catholic teaching, but the fact that a Catholic would reference him/herself as “bound by the Bible” in the first place.

    • Brutus

      I wouldn’t call the argument even ‘reasonably coherent’; the summary at the end of polyamory doesn’t reference anything in the paragraphs leading up to it.

      • EMMilco

        If there had been an option that highlighted the incoherence of the entry, but didn’t involve accusing the author of strawmanning, I would have chosen that.

        • Brutus

          Concur.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I agree with the first two, but may I suggest the “Leaves a bad taste in my mouth” might be an American rejection of authority rather than the points themselves?

      • EMMilco

        Are you suggesting that the distaste is on account of my rejection of authority, or my sense that the author rejects authority?

        • TheodoreSeeber

          I think maybe the second…..

          • EMMilco

            Hmm, but I didn’t have that impression. If it is a Catholic, as I suspect, then I would guess that the Catholic in question thinks that (s)he is totally in line with church teaching. My distaste is mainly for the cheapness of the reasoning and how faulty most of it is.

    • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

      Totally disagree.

      Very likely atheist.

      The Euthanasia answer is a Less Wrongish straw-man
      of how their pro-suffering, deathist, can’t-possibly-be-rational opponents might argue.

      The polyamory question is made up of disconnected buzzwords from the
      cathechism.

      “A nonfidelitous relationship, or one that ends, cannot be a sacramental marriage” and “provides all sacramentally married people with the kind of love and relationship-based care that enriches and fulfills their lives” are open parody.

      • EMMilco

        I guess if you’re right, my fault is having known enough “serious”, well-meaning, quasi-intellectual Catholics who spout incoherencies this way to believe that this is one of them.

  • Jakeithus

    Way to erase my long explanation post Disqus…

    Anyways, to sum it up, this is the most difficult of the 4 entries in my mind. It is very straightforward Christian/Catholic, without a lot of clues that really differentiate it from being authentic, or an attempt at being authentic.

    2 points give me pause as potentially giving me an answer.

    #1 – “It is never permissible to end a life.” Most thoughtful Christians recognize just war and self defense as permissible reasons to end the life of another person.
    #2 “In almost all cases, it is an absolute medical moral obligation to
    prevent death by any means necessary, whether active or passive.” I’ve never heard a Christian call it immoral for a well informed, competent individual to refuse medical treatment that may prevent death. Preventing death by any means necessary is not a component of Christian though. This makes me feel the entry is more of a caricature of a Christian pro-life position, than the real thing.

    I very well may be wrong. After doing 4 of these, I find myself possibly being overly suspicious, so I will have to consider that in the future.

    • Brutus

      #2: He goes far beyond that; the logical extension of his direct claims is that it is morally impermissible to allow anyone to do anything that shortens their expected lifespan.

      >In almost all cases, it is an absolute medical moral obligation to
      prevent death by any means necessary, whether active or passive.

      So, no standing idly by while people choose to smoke. No fast cars. No sports.

      I think it’s clear that the logical consequences of this position have not been considered, but that is not much evidence about whether the position is honest or not.

      • Jakeithus

        You’re correct in saying that following the position to its logical conclusion leads to an extreme and ultimately untenable position. It clearly wasn’t thought out all the way.

        I would disagree about whether or not it is evidence of an authentic position however. It’s a position that I don’t think I have ever heard expressed by a Christian. I would expect an authentic but poorly thought out position to more likely fall into the mainstream than this does.

        • Brutus

          Do you think that the failure to explore the consequences is evidence that it is fake?

          I would expect an fake and poorly examined position to fall into the mainstream more than a real one.

          • Jakeithus

            It’s one where we will have to agree to disagree I think. Like Chris is saying below, something is off about the argument. To me it feels off because someone tried to sound like a Christian but ended up with some slight changes to the argument that I haven’t heard a Christian make before. It’s close enough to sound convincing, but just far enough outside the mainstream that the author might not realize that it is.

          • Brutus

            Can we at least agree that we both aren’t very sure if it is real or not?

          • Jakeithus

            I think we can agree on that. Of the 4 entries so far, this was my toughest decision, and since I’m almost certain I’m wrong on identifying at least one of them as atheist, it very well could be this one.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      Agreed, especially with #2. Something felt subtly off about this the whole way through, and then I got to the last paragraph, which was so ridiculously implausible I couldn’t believe a real Christian would write it. Though I suppose someone who hadn’t just read Scott Alexander’s post on how people die in hospitals might not see it as ridiculously implausible.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        Thank you for mentioning this. I needed to read that. And his previous post.

        Though like most things, AFTER reading Scott Alexander’s post, I more agree with the last paragraph. No heroics for me, I want to die at home, if necessary under hospice care. And after seeing my wife’s father’s death- I’m going to be totally honest with my family about everything (he wasn’t, leading to a completely unnecessary hospital trip where a misdiagnosis of acid reflux was then correctly diagnosed as liver failure- and he was dead 24 hours later).

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      “It is very straightforward Christian/Catholic”

      I would disagree with this, or rather that No. 4 is “very straightforward Catholic” on the grounds of “”In almost all cases, it is an absolute medical moral obligation to prevent death by any means necessary, whether active or passive.”

      No, not “by any means necessary”. The right to refuse “extraordinary measures” goes (in the example I learned when the nuns were teaching us in Sixth Class) all the way back to when you could refuse amputation even though a surgeon recommended it and you would otherwise die of gangrene; the risks associated with such surgery (no anaesthesia, no painkillers, no blood transfusions, almost certainty of infection, and shock from the operation) meant that the cure would nearly as certainly kill you as the disease, so you were not obligated to try and save your life in this manner or avoid death, and it was not a form of suicide (by the bye, from Irish history, neither is going on hunger strike considered a form of suicide unless you continue to such a degree that you cannot be saved).

      See the Catechism on this:

      “2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome,
      dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment.
      Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.”

      I have to say, I’m a bit worried about the various comments for all the entries so far saying “This is obviously Catholic” when it’s not obviously Catholic to me. Either I’m much less conservative in my religious views than I thought, or I’m not as Catholic as I thought :-)
      (Or maybe American Catholicism is a different kettle of fish?)

      • Jakeithus

        I have to admit that I myself am not a Catholic, and am only slightly familiar with some of the specific Catholic teachings on these issues, which is why my response included both the generic Christian and more specific Catholic category. I would still say that the author is attempting to write primarily from a Catholic perspective, based on the use of “Sacramental Marriage”, which I haven’t heard used in any other Christian context.

        When I say it comes from a Catholic perspective, I need to be clear as well that I believe it to be an atheist writing from that perspective, rather than an authentic one.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        That last. Catechisis has been so bad that most American Catholics under the age of 50 are pretty much where you were in Sixth Class (or younger).

        • Martha O’Keeffe

          I was lucky, Theodore. Vatican II happened when I was born, but the full effects didn’t kick in (in Ireland at least) until after I had made my First Communion (though I can tell you, the changes in learning the Confiteor in its English translation annoyed me for that sacrament – just when the whole class had finally learned the entire thing off by heart, we had to learn a new one!) and up to my Confirmation at the age of twelve (so for example, I know what Limbo is – and isn’t).

          When I started secondary school, the ‘new-style’ catechisms – or rather, they were more like workbooks – were in vogue. Nothing solid about doctrine but a lot about what is nowadays called ‘social justice’. Luckily again, I stumbled on a translation of “The Divine Comedy” mouldering on the bookshelves of one classroom when I was fifteen (ironically, it was the version done by a Low Church of Ireland clergyman, so liturgically low that he made sure to add a footnote that Dante’s line about ‘a lady in heaven took pity on you’ was an allegorical reference to the Divine Mercy, when even I could see he meant the Blessed Virgin) and started a life-long interest in the poem.

          As I have often said, I get all my theology out of Dante :-)

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I was significantly less lucky. All of my CCD was out of those stupid workbooks. The sum total of my CCD education was “You belong to the Family of God. Jesus Loves You. Jesus was nice so you should be nice too.” It is not surprising to me that many Catholics of my generation stopped going to church entirely after Confirmation- and sometimes before.

            All of my theology is out of the Enyclicals of the last 8 Popes.

          • Martha O’Keeffe

            Ooh, did you have a flying saucer in yours? Ours did! First chapter starts off with a line drawing of a girl and a boy and an alien in a flying saucer. At the age of thirteen, I didn’t know the expression “WTF?” but it certainly summed up my feelings – going from the old catechism which had us learning off the Six Laws of the Church to this production which was “Now, if you met an alien, could you tell him about being Christian?” though I can’t remember if it was even that doctrinaire; it was probably more along the lines of “Why are we nice?” as you put it :-)

            Yeah – because I was a bookworm, I scavenged the bookshelves at school and ate all the neglected volumes from previous days by Chesterton, Belloc and things like the novels of Canon Sheehan in which I first learned rude American words! From his 1901 “The Triumph of Failure”, where an Irish priest with experience of working in America is instructing a young priest going out there that, when reading certain extracts from the Gospels and preaching on them, he must swap “rooster” and “donkey” for the words he is accustomed to using – it wasn’t until much later I found out exactly why “cock” and “ass” were rude in American ;-)

          • Martha O’Keeffe

            As an aside, can I ask you did your class (or was it customary in America) for the confirmation class to take the Total Abstinence* Pledge immediately after being confirmed?

            *This isn’t about sex, dear non-Irish readers, it’s about abstaining from alcohol. We took the pledge not to drink until we were at least eighteen (legal drinking age in Ireland).

            And the reason for giving this to a bunch of twelve year olds? Because if they left it any later, we’d already have started drinking.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Justified is not equal to permissible- the act is still wrong even when justified- your #1 is what put it over the top for me.

  • Brutus

    >while I will not do polyamorists, some of whom I call my friends, the
    dishonor of calling their relationships intrinsically more unstable, it
    does seem more likely that such relationships would disband

    I’m not calling you a hypocrite, but in the second half of that phrase you did exactly what you said you would not do in the first half.

  • http://www.thewinedarksea.com/ Melanie B

    My gut reaction: it feels like an atheist doing a reasonably good imitation of a Catholic. I’m with Darwin, I’d expect a Catholic Leah chose to do a better job. The word choice feels awkward– “fidelitous” for example isn’t a word I’ve ever come across in Catholic circles and I read a lot of Catholic books, blogs, and articles– the phrasing feels awkward. It has a lot of the right catchphrases and most of the right arguments but they feel oddly strung together like beads from several broken necklaces put on strings by someone who had never seen any of the necklaces before they were broken. Good guesswork, but not quite right. For example, I agree with the commenter who says that “bound by the Bible to marry” doesn’t sound Catholic but “sacramental marriage” does. This kind of mismatch of phrasing is what I might expect to see from a reasonably well informed atheist who can’t quite distinguish one “flavor” of Christian from another. If this is a Catholic, then they are an awkward writer and unevenly informed about what the Church teaches.

    • Brutus

      >If this is a Catholic, then they are an awkward writer and unevenly informed about what the Church teaches.

      Or they agree in part with what the church teaches and disagree in part. I’m not sure how possible it is to disagree on those points and be ‘Catholic’.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/duffy/ Elizabeth Duffy

      I agree Melanie. Not a Christian. Also this line gives it away: “A nonfidelitous relationship, or one that ends, cannot be a sacramental marriage, because it is not the complete binding of people to each other; rather, it is partial or temporary. ”

      Neither infidelity nor divorce render the sacrament null.

      • anon

        Yeah, but not all Christians believe that about Marriage. That line sounds a lot like a Calvinist friend of mine…

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Tough one again to call, but I went for “likely atheist” on no better basis than the use of the word “fidelitous” which I had to look up and which appears to be current in discussions of polyamory.
    So probably telling the truth about having polyamorous friends or at least knowing a little more than the surface notions about it, but I can’t buy that a Christian would use this particular term when talking about marriage.
    Argument against euthanasia was constructed better, but could be exactly that – cobbled together from Christian sources.

    • Brutus

      Additionally, the mention of cryogenics makes me think that the author wanted me to think he was a Rationalist; that makes me think he isn’t.

      It’s also possible that a Christian did research to write the other half, and the priming effects of that research led to terminology and concept crossover.

      • Martha O’Keeffe

        Sure, but if I were writing that, I’d instinctively use “fidelity” or “monogamy” rather than slipping in “fidelitous” which I only encountered during research. I know that I consciously have to work on “translation” when I’m writing about Catholic things for non-Catholic Christians, trying to phrase things in a way that make sense in their terms of reference.

        How many people (outside of committed to the philosophy polyamorists) regularly or easily use “fidelitous” in preference to “fidelity”, such that it would slip off the pen (or the keyboard) in a manner of casual usage? Or that the assumption would be that a non-polyamorist audience (or even a majority of polyamorists) would be familiar with that particular term?

  • Kristen in dallas

    This is the first one I’ve been pretty sure about, and I’d put money on this being a self-catechised, pacifist pro-life catholic. Yes, there are a few things that don’t quite line up with official teaching (refusing end-of-life care ok, not everyone called to marriage) but the diversions seem to follow a consistent theme of the Catholic type that knows the ideal but isn’t maybe quite as good at knowing the exceptions. This to me also matches the writing style – intellegent, probably fairly researched and edited, analytical language that leaves behind the emotional/persuasive tone that seemed jarring in the previous few entries. (Not that I haven’t met some very emotional Christians, but the first 3 entries combined emotion and slander with big words and complex thought in a very odd way)

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      Interesting theory, but your observations are also consistent with an atheist who gave zirself a quick brush-up on Catholicism, possibly building on past interactions with Catholics (Leah says she has a bet going with this person, so maybe it’s someone she knows fairly well?)

      • Joe

        Yes I think this is an atheist. The reference to cryonics makes me think of Yvain. However the post has the charism of the late great, foul mouthed but charming Ozy Frantz

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

          Do you think it *actually* might be Yvain? If so, I wonder how he’ll handle the honest answer for euthanasia. On his blog, he’s gotten somewhat guarded about his views on suicide since starting his residency.

          • Martha O’Keeffe

            Nah, doesn’t sound like him to me. I think he’d do a better job stitching together a rationale for polygamy, and the euthanasia question is a bit off – though I agree, hauling in cryonics out of nowhere does match up with his interests (cryonics, not pulling stuff out of the air – he’d mesh it better if it were him).

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            I’m fairly sure this one isn’t Yvain but a lesser being from the Less Wrong nexus.

            But Yvain is in the test, Leah said so in some recent comment I’m too lazy to search for.

          • LeahLibresco

            Alas, Yvain is busy being a doctor and had to pull out due to time constraints.

  • JohnnyVoxx

    Leah, so glad to have found your blog as I learned of your story a year or so ago. Thank you for applying your intellect to share your experience. It is so important. And please don’t get discouraged! Just read your other contributions on “Strange Notions” and think they’re great! Pax Vobiscum.

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

    This is the second entry to suggest that supporting euthanasia is ableist. I have never heard this claim before. Anyone else hear anything like that in the past?

    • Brutus

      I’ve heard that lots of things are ableist. I have never heard a reasoning why the ableism necessary in a meritocracy is bad, only assertions that ableism is bad in general.

      Euthanasia damn well better apply more often to people who have become disabled. That’s the point.

    • somervta

      It’s fairly frequent, in my experience. Steven Pinker gets an incredible amount of… criticism from disabled group for some of his views, which are stronger than euthanasia but along the same lines.

    • LeahLibresco

      I have heard it before

  • Melody

    I voted very likely Christian, but now I think I agree with the guest commenter below. The argument sounds very in line with Christian teachings to me, though perhaps not Catholic; but a Protestant would not have referred to sacramental marriage. Still, if the author is atheist, he/she passes the test in my book of being well acquainted with the general Christian mindset on these issues.

  • Brutus

    That cryogenics is even mentioned seems to be very strong LW-influenced. Am I modeling the contestant as too sophisticated if I consider that it was included specifically to alter my belief about the entry?

  • Brutus

    I’m a bit confused about why euthanasia is unacceptable, but so is preventing death completely. “An example of an unnatural act of this kind … an act intended to avoid death
    altogether, and thus defy God’s plan for us.”

    Is that position internally consistent, or are treatments which prolong life finitely different in kind from medical advances that prolong life indefinitely?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      The entry says, “In almost all cases, it is an absolute medical moral obligation to prevent death by any means necessary.” So I guess cryonics is one of the exceptions that necessitated the “almost.”

      • Brutus

        It’s pretty clear that effective anti-aging medicine would also violate the ‘plan’ or somehow be ‘unnatural’, because it would allow one to live ‘forever’, while partially effective aging-retardation medicine is obligatory, because it allows one to live ‘longer’.

  • Joe

    The phrase “divine teleology” is signaling atheist. Most catholic philosophers wouldn’t include the word divine when discribing teleology as far as I know.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    This is great fun so far. I can’t wait for the atheist entries, when we’ll be all “Yep, definitely atheist” and our rationalist friends will be going “You think this is what an atheist sounds like? How can you possibly think that?”


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