[Turing 2013] Christian Entry #12

This is the twelfth and final 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

Since the dawn of humanity, the divine model for intimate love has been simply one of paradise: the incomparable union between two people. Compelling and enduring, our legal system has taken this cue for intimacy, defining the structure for marital partnership as limited to two adults.

But can’t we dismiss this limitation as constrictive? Perhaps — but to do so is to dismiss the great value of love’s constraints. We elevate love above all other states because it cannot be simply reduced to a mere feeling. Love persists in loving, when it’s no longer convenient, immediately gratifying or comfortable to do so. Like all acts of sacrifice, it is not done for the self, but for object of affection. Thus love, as still stated in traditional marriage vows, “forsakes all others.” This abandonment of all other possibility is how we have defined marriage – as well as its inverse, bachelorhood.

Is this a needless restriction of freedom? While the two-person model does include some measure of loss for the individual, it provides direct benefit to the spouse. Faithfulness to one person eliminates the sexual health risks of multiple partners — increasingly important in a day and age plagued by AIDS. This exclusive dynamic also heightens healthy interdependence in marriage, adding physical reasons to sustain ongoing emotional engagement with your sole partner. Marriage, in short, “ups the ante” of a relationship through limitation of choice.

This allows marriage to demonstrate strength of commitment. The government provides incentives (from green cards to tax breaks) for those willing to commit to a lifetime. If “polyamorous marriages” were sanctioned, gauging commitment level would be virtually impossible. We require a single “home address” (even for those with multiple houses) and a single party declaration (even for those with complex views). To extend the highest social value of love – one defined by selective, limited choice – to unlimited partners is to have virtually no “highest” form of love, and no actual selection, at all.

“Polyamorous marriage” would also create a logistical nightmare for the modern family. Even if custody rights defaulted to biological parents, adoptive rights transfers could create unlimited guardians for a single child, causing clashes in medical and educational decisions. Children would undoubtedly face severe attachment issues in childhood — a predictor of romantic security as adults. Polyamorous marriages could also prove financially devastating, particularly if the notion of simultaneous divorce were granted (as causes such as abuse may affect multiple spouses simultaneously).

Most importantly, polyamory prevents the need to develop the self to its utmost potential. When the burden of love is shared, a single person simply does not have to offer everything we need in a life partner. The trade-off is never truly experiencing the intimacy inherent with having all your needs met by a single, eclipsing one. Marriage indicates a love so strong, it cannot help but be single-focused, allowing you to devote all of yourself wholly to another — something logically impossible to accomplish in more than one direction.

 

Euthanasia

During our time here, we’re each gifted with one life – a single chance to use our senses, experience a fleeting thought or memory, feel warmth, perceive light, injure and recover. To revoke these rights through euthanasia amounts to nothing more than murder: the abrupt ending of a life that was never ours to give or take.

Not even dire medical prognoses justify euthanasia. Man can’t possibly feel entitled to life-and-death judgment calls based on a consciousness modern medicine can’t even accurately assess. Medicine’s best guess at consciousness – the popular Glasgow coma scale – is a rudimentary attempt to divine what only God can (by using the rough and problematic standards of motion, speech and perceived pain response). We can’t play God, simply because we don’t have the capacity; as humans, we will inevitably make mistakes – and we can’t afford to make mistakes with stakes running as high as human life.

Ancient history texts (from Herodotus, Hippocrates, and The Bible) include accounts of those who defied the medicine of their respective day. Modern accounts range from spontaneous remissions of cancer to regained consciousness after clinical pronouncements of death. Today’s miracles are tomorrow’s science, as we learn more about death, the human body, and the links between spirituality and recovery.

In cases where the patient himself decides life is not worth living, euthanasia plainly amounts to assisted suicide. While terminal patients certainly reserve the right to refuse potentially harmful treatments, to stop air- or sustenance-giving interventions is the moral equivalent of starving a child to death, or refusing to clear an infant’s airways simply because they cannot do so on their own.

Even the practice of withholding medical care allows us to commit passive, socially-sanctioned, premeditated murder. Most health care rationing decisions (including the infamously proposed “death panels”) rest on outcome probabilities (age, advanced illness, etc.) and cost-benefit algorithms, despite being marketed as “morality.” We roadblock treatment given to those who desperately need it most, skewing the data for treatment survival rates in the process – the same survival rates used to justify denial of life-saving measures.

I used to consider proponents of euthanasia as heartless, but I’ve found they’re more often sensitive – to a fault. The thought of watching someone enduring great pain rattles them to a degree they’d prefer to end a life permanently rather witness – and co-endure – suffering. This “compassion” is ultimately driven by a society exceedingly uncomfortable with physical pain, poor odds, and the dying process itself – and projection of helplessness, sadness and sense of injustice onto the patient as if it were his response. We euthanize to halt our own suffering. We tell ourselves patients have found the ultimate relief – but really, we have found it ourselves through their elimination.

As humans, we have the responsibility to care for one another in body, as well as spirit. Only when we extend this measure of compassion, hope and philanthropy to the human spirit will we offer the human body a fair chance for recovery and resilience.

 

Bonus

My faith is a reflective essay, interweaving the text of scripture, the depth of personal experience, and the universal implications of an explored theme.

Because of my belief that scripture is divinely inspired, close reading of the Bible’s text becomes paramount in my life story. Scripture becomes the basis of any thesis I form about the world. My convictions hinge on the most accurate analysis of the literal Word of God – the original language and intent, the exactness of diction divinely inspired, and the preservation of its statements even amid human temptation to color them.

Like the reflective essay, my faith also incorporates first-hand, personal experience. The Bible didn’t save me, and while I strive to fall in line with its standards, it doesn’t forge choices for me. Within a dynamic relationship with God – as He illuminates the days of my life – I make decisions, slowly becoming a “living version” of the scripture myself. And finally, as the reflective essay examines universal implications raised by the literature at hand, I apply my faith as best I can to the lost world around me.

These three aspects weave throughout my life, as the scripture, personal relationship, and outreach intermingle. Ultimately, the journey of my own life mirrors and magnifies the one in the text – and with study, meditation and prayer, I hope to find wider application of that thesis to a world in desperate need of applied mercy, love and compassion.
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 an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative 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."

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

    Very Likely Christian, for trying to insist euthanasia proponents are just selfish. I don’t think an atheist would deliberately include such an insulting strawman of the opposing side, and if they did, damn that was devious.

    Also I must have screwed up somewhere, because I haven’t voted enough entries as being atheist. Which should’ve given me a high prior for this one being atheist, but I think most likely I screwed up on a previous entry.

    • Jakeithus

      I’m surprised you came to this conclusion, the whole thing feels vaguely strawmanish to me. I didn’t see what was written about euthanasia to be deliberately insulting towards its proponents, but I can totally see it as an argument that the author heard coming from an opponent that stuck with them, which the author mistakenly took to be a common Christian talking point. Although I can agree that an aspect of euthanasia touches on our desire to escape the suffering we experience watching our loved ones suffer, I don’t see too many thoughtful Christians bringing it up the way it was in this post.

      Although I’m not completely sure surrounding the rules, and if there is supposed to be a 50-50 split in entries, I’m in the opposite position. I’m probably at least at an 8:4 atheist:Christian ratio.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      I can agree with the strawman, but not the very likely Christian part. As to how many entries are atheist, I counted up that I only picked four out of twelve – which means we either have some really, really good mimics out there or I’m hopeless at recognising who’s bluffing.

      Or both :-)

      • TheodoreSeeber

        I resemble that remark. I think I’ve only marked three as likely atheist.

        • Martha O’Keeffe

          I’m eager to start on the atheist guessing (I mean, carefully considered analysis of each answer) so I can see in the end if I maintain my record of “Wow, I was really far out on that one”. :-)

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I went with likely atheist, for the mere reason that euthanasia proponents being selfish (whether selfish preventing one’s own suffering, or selfish by going to extreme measures to prevent even the witness of suffering- after all, sometimes the person getting euthanasia wants it too) is a logical conclusion and is therefore not an insult automatically.

    • Joy

      No strawmanning intended. When my mother was dying, she (lucid, talkative) decided to fight for every second left over the course of a year. In turn, we as her family had to fight frequently for her to retain that right. I watched nurses and doctors insist on her euthanasia, despite her talkativeness and lucidity — including a nurse who broke down into hysterical tears and promptly tried to grossly overdose her on Dilaudid.

      While there were rational health professionals on both sides of the issue, the most vehemently pro-euthanasia in her case were often pointing out the effect on them. It seemed this came from a sensitive nature as well as past experiences watching someone suffer. The friends of hers who fell into this camp were pretty candid about similar reasons.

  • Brendan Hodge

    From the very first paragraph, I was sure this was a fake, and a strawmanning one at that.

    The favorite genre section at the end finished it off. I would be absolutely floored if this is a real Christian.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I actually know a recently baptized convert who *does* think that way- though he does include encyclicals along with the Bible. He’s an interesting guy to talk to. Unfortunately, at the young age of 28, he’s close to have eaten himself to death, he’ll be going in for his 2nd open heart surgery early next month.

    • http://www.catholicismforcutters.com/ Broken Whole

      From the dawn of humanity, readers have often questioned the earnestness of writers. Never has that been more true than in this case, when the response begins like a bad freshman composition essay.

      • Joy

        Yeah, that line was over-the-top. (That could be said of some of a few other phrases, too.) I cycled through type/delete a few times.

        One interesting piece of background to writing this piece from a (as I know it) Christian perspective:

        I lost my father fairly recently, in a situation where we had to make such a call — and made the decision to let go, without regret. Conversely, I also lost my mom young, several years ago, and she wanted to fight the whole way — a decision we also backed her on, without regret.

        But, writing from the Christian perspective (as I know it) was a little excruciating as a result. I fought tremendous guilt. It was strange to reembrace the principles from my mom’s journey (and some of the judgment), with those memories flooding back, in the wake of having violated most of them in the second situation with my dad. Strangely, from two somewhat-polar and strong acts of love. There are parts of my current beliefs in both entries.

  • Jakeithus

    I think this one is very likely atheist, and out of all of the entries I feel the strongest about this prediction.

    “The trade-off is never truly experiencing the intimacy inherent with having all your needs met by a single, eclipsing one. Marriage indicates a love so strong, it cannot help but be single-focused, allowing you to devote all of yourself wholly to another — something logically impossible to accomplish in more than one direction.”

    This paragraph sealed the deal for me. I cannot imagine a Christian providing this justification surrounding marriage. Talking about having all of ones needs met by a single individual, or how love in marriage should be single-focused, is totally foreign to any Christian mindset that I am aware of.

    The rest of the entry just confirmed my feelings.

    • Joy

      Sexually, the Bible’s fairly clear on receiving full satisfaction via a single person (Prov 5: “Let her breasts satisfy thee at all times…,” “Drink waters out of thine own cistern…,” Christ’s warnings against even committing adultery in your heart, etc.)

      I also think the Bible makes a clear case for “single-focused” (monogamous) love, from “cleaving to your wife” and becoming “one flesh” to continually consistent warnings (both overt and narrative) against multiple spouses, “youthful lusts,” (II Timothy 2) and the like.

      Perhaps I didn’t make the last point well — biblical love is single-focused, and singly devoted in its ideal. “All of your needs” may be a bit sweeping — though Prov 31 sure sets many women up to attempt it (and many Christian guys to expect it), but the point was to counter the oft-mentioned polyamorous point that needs become filled by varied people (rather having an aspect of marital needs remaining unfulfilled). This is also somewhat a black-and-white, either/or view; another option may be that in monogamy, one *learns* to fill a partner’s needs, over time, through developing areas that otherwise may have been deficient. The absence of others to fulfill those (intellectual, companionship, sexual, financial, etc.) needs may create an environment for development.

      Also, the Christianity I know would argue that “God would make up the difference,” and that with an approach of grace and forgiveness, areas of lack would not matter so much. There’s also still (IMHO) a strong evangelical notion that God has hand-picked and predestined the “right” person for you, your perfect help mate, who by virtue of being so, would fulfill any needs husbands or wives have that apply to their spouses.

      • Jakeithus

        I think if you make the distinction regarding sexual love, then your position makes more sense from a Christian perspective. If you’re just speaking about love in general, then not. To me, it’s pretty clear that as a Christian our love for God is supposed to supersede even our love for our spouse, and that setting up any fallible person as the sole focus of our love is a recipe for disappointment and pain.

        I just think I approach love in a Christian context from a different position than you. It’s impossible for my wife to fill all my needs and vice versa, but as a Christian I am called to love her regardless of that, and that if that means giving up my own desires because of it then so be it.

        I agree that there is a strong evangelical notion about what a husband and wife should be, I just don’t think it is correct. I think I hear the warning about not expecting your spouse to provide all of your needs too much, and a lack of this warning stood out to me.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    I’m going for atheist here, and even the strawman argument choice. There’s just something off about the answers, particularly the last one, which sounds like a poor imitation of an imagined rhapsody about the Bible (but nothing like the real Evangelicals I’ve encountered sound, though perhaps I’m hanging around with the wrong Evangelicals).

    On a side-note, I feel horribly dull and boring – I keep filling out the answer boxes as “Christian, nope, always been Christian, nope, never changed from nuthin’”. How pedestrian of me! Surely at this hour of my life I should have flitted from one faith tradition to another, or at the very least had a deep, dark, stunningly agonising Dark Night of the Soul!
    :-)

  • James_Jarvis

    Atheist, the bonus question sounds like what an atheist who never talked to a Christian would expect a Christian to say.

    • Joy

      Author here. My reality actually was quite the opposite — I rarely spoke to *non-Christians* (save for conversion attempts) for majority of my life. :) The majority of my “bonus question” response was actually taken largely verbatim from a prior (sincere) statement of faith.

  • jscalvano

    This sounds to me like an Atheist’s honest attempt at answering the prompt without saying anything that actually contradicts his or her belief. It reads almost like an attempt to get Christians to be more sympathetic to Atheist viewpoints on the matter, and does bring up some good points as such. The Polyamory argument, while referencing God, could easily fit into an atheistic worldview. (I at least don’t assume that all of the Atheists will be against polyamory.) He only mentions God once in the Euthanasia section while expressing a sentiment that could easily be held outside of belief in God. It actually kind of reminds me of something out of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. The Bonus section seems like he is describing someone else’s experience more than his own. But I’ve been going with my gut more on these anyway and analysing them after the fact to see why my gut was telling me to go that way.

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

    Like everyone else, I thought this one not at all respectable.

    Still, perhaps I’m a sucker, but I voted likely Christian. It could be an atheist missing the point of the exercise, but just being bad doesn’t prove that. And the atheoretical experiental relationship talk actually sounds somewhat like the real mainliners in the last two iterations of the ITT, who didn’t pass as themselves either.

  • victoria

    It seems counterintuitive that someone who would write the second paragraph of the bonus section (about the Bible’s being divinely inspired and about close reading the Bible for original intent) would answer the two prompts without reference to anything specific in the Bible, let alone any chapter and verse.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Ordinarily, I don’t take newspaper science stories too seriously (“Scientists claim coffee will kill you immediately/let you live to 100!”) and even less seriously when it’s social/evolutionary psychology stories (“Scientists discovered we evolved to wear pink but not green together because lions kill zebras on the Serengeti”) but when I saw the magic words Bayesian statistics, especially given the topic of the article, I knew I had to link to it. :-)

  • Evan

    Having finished voting, I did end up with 6 Atheists and 6 Christians, although I don’t know if that’s the actual breakdown. There were four entries which I’m really not sure about (2, 4, 6, and 10) two which I thought were terribly argued (9 and this one), two that I’m sure are Atheists (3 and 5), and only one that I’m sure is Christian (7).

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