[Turing 2013] Christian Entry #9

This is the nineth entry in the Christian round of the 2013 Ideological Turing Test.  This year, atheists and Christians responded to questions about sex, death, and literature.  Note, this one came in without linebreaks due to formatting, so I guessed… and then the author emailed me and they’re now correct.

 

Polyamory

I don’t think there is even a question about the sacrament being monogamous, so lets talk about the social institution.

While special revelation makes it much clearer, there are also strong natural law arguments for monogamy. In fact historically, the strong Christian emphasis on monogamy continues the Roman side of Jesus’s milieu more than the Hebrew one.

The basic philosophical point is that objective purposes exist. I don’t have the space to really argue for this, so I’ll just say I don’t see room for any coherent theory of ethics without them. I think they fell out of mainstream philosophical favor mainly because they are the base of an obvious argument for at least deism, which is of course a conclusion many moderns wish to avoid.

Once we admit objective purposes, we can infer a lot about them by analyzing general cases. In other words, polyamory can violate the purposes of romantic love and marriage even if particular polyamorous people are happy.

I won’t go into much detail about historical versions of non-monogamy, because I think most modern advocates of polyamory would agree they sucked. In particular, men getting to add additional wifes was part of the general raw deal women got through most of human history.

Modern polyamory is different from historical precedents in two ways: Both sexes are allowed to have multiple partners and indirect relationship graphs can grow arbitrarily large. So if Alice is a girlfriend of Bob, Bob is a boyfriend of Carol, and Carol is a girlfriend of David, that doesn’t necessarily mean David is also a boyfriend of Alice. This also means individuals can’t realistically regulate whom they are indirectly coupled to at large degrees of indirection.

Of course in most social networks that would be an STD disaster, and the point is even more obvious if we remember the purposes of human love didn’t suddenly change with the invention of the condom.

But, more importantly, marriage is also for concentrating resources and providing stability, particularly for child-rearing. A proposed way to do this polyamorously is having one primary relationship and some clearly subordinate secondary ones on the side. If this is taken seriously, the secondary relationships are basically disposable for reasons external to them, i.e. by definition not committed. Or else the primary relationships are actually diminished. And either way, unless killing the child is an option, that plan must break down when a woman gets pregnant from a secondary.

However we turn it, it basically sums up to lowered commitment. Ultimately, this reduces the basic romantic unit from a couple to an individual. The supposed widening of the romantic circle actually consists in collapsing it to a point.

So, not so coincidentally, modern style polyamory mainly seems popular with affluent childless people, who might like commitment as a nebulous concept but ultimately can do without the actual thing. But even then it’s attractive in the way junk food is attractive, it gives the good feeling separate from the purpose and long term positive effects.

Of course there is no reason for the state to extend the privileges of marriage to a clearly inferior model. Plus, pragmatically speaking, the state can’t distinguish between serious and pro forma marriages, so in the long term removing the numerical limit would force the repeal of any tangible advantages now connected with the institution.

 

Euthanasia

I’ll take the headword as restricting the actual question and not talk about self-defense, war, etc.

The question already contains a big part of the answer: Actually killing someone in the broadly medical context we’re talking about is never licit, while not prolonging life by treatment sometimes is.

For example, it’s quite acceptable for a late stage cancer patient to choose three more months with the family over six months connected to machines in the hospital. This is because one good (life) need not be sought at the cost of all others. As a counter-example, depressive people can’t morally skip the antibiotics for a treatable infection so that it may kill them. The difference here is intention: The depressive person acts on a wish to die (at least as a means to not being depressed), while the cancer patient merely gives up on avoiding death at so high a cost.

However, I’m somewhat squeamish about the “withholding treatment” language, because it gets used as a loophole for dehydrating anesthetized people to death. In many jurisdictions that gets around the legal distinction between killing people and letting them die, but the purpose of such a protocol clearly is to get the patients dead as fast as legally possible. Morally, that’s no better than simply shooting them.

We can see the importance of intent even more clearly in the second big moral distinction relevant to end-of-life cases: It can be OK to take the risk of a pain-killer killing the patient as well as the pain, if that’s not what we’re after. That’s an example of the principle we Catholics call double effect.

So much for what I believe, now for why: Some of our moral claims are inalienable, and that means even we ourselves don’t get to waive them. For comparison, people don’t get to sell themselves into slavery either.

One way to see life belongs to this class brings us back to objective teleology: In general living is quite clearly a part of human flourishing. As I already said in the first answer, that general insight should carry over even to cases where the benefits aren’t so obvious.

As a side note, the difference between not furthering a purpose (withholding treatment in this context) and actually frustrating it (killing in this context) goes all through natural law theory. For example, it’s also the moral difference between natural family planning and artificial contraception.

 

Bonus

I object to the assumption of the question!

Writers are stereotypically but rightly advised to show rather than tell. This gives good literature a comparative advantage in communicating ideas that are easier to show than to tell.

Let me give some broadly Christian examples: To borrow Leah’s recent favorite, the Javert-Valjean contrast illustrates our need for grace and its interaction with pride much better than a theological tract could. The Magnificat communicates the greatness of God and his inversion of values not only explicitly, but also by its beauty. Eve Tushnet’s “Love” illustrates things about our fallen condition that loose much of their emotional impact when they are explained in an analytical manner. Somewhat more low-brow, the Harry Potter books are not meant as specifically Christian literature, but they are still very much a John 15:13 story.

You may notice that these examples don’t share a genre. That’s because reasonably complex worldviews, certainly mine, aren’t that limited.

Even the Bible itself uses many different genres such as myth (most of the Pentateuch, myth doesn’t mean bunk b.t.w.), poetry (Psalms), narrated drama (Job), and ancient biography (the gospels). Sometimes I would prefer it to be a unitary work written in a unity genre (textbook maybe), but the truth is a lot of its meaning couldn’t be communicated that way.

Since I refused to answer the actual question, I’ll at least say something as controversial as an actual answer would have been: In general plot is highly overrated. The plots of most famous literary works can be summarized in a few lines, but that’s because they are just vehicles for the main content.

 

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."

  • stanz2reason

    Feels a bit all over the world here. Ill go likely christian.

    • Quatsch83

      Catholic does mean “universal”…

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

        Totally off-topic: Are you in the German-speaking area perchance? (Your user-name would seem to suggest so.)

        • Quatsch83

          No…I’m in the US. I picked that handle when I took German in high school 15 years ago and it stuck…

  • alexander stanislaw

    My initial impression was that this author knows a bit too much about polyamory to be a typical Christian. I will be impressed if it is a Christian.

    • Brutus

      For someone who knows a lot about polyamory, there is certainly a lot of ignorance about how most poly relationships actually work.

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

    Ahhh, tricky one. This writer seems to know an unusual amount about polyamory for someone morally opposed to it. On the other hand they seem to know Catholic moral theory well, and do a couple things (like flatly refer to abortion as “killing”) that I don’t think an atheist would do unless they were being very careful about such subtleties. I’ll say “likely Christian,” but I’m less certain about this one than I’ve been about any other.

    • Mariana Baca

      As a catholic living in Cambridge, MA, knowing a lot of polyamory is not that hard. It involves living in a college town with 20-something year old friends.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    If this one is atheist, then it wins the game hands down. I’m going with very likely Christian, probably Catholic, with the same set of Mormon friends I had in high school.

  • Brandon B

    This is an example of an argument that fails to show its conclusions logically follow from its premises. I also think the author spends a little too much space say “I am limited by space”.

    I would like to nominate this entry “Most Likely To Be A Strawman”.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      strawman != “I don’t like some steps in his logical chain and therefore he’s failed to show his steps”

      Editing: I miss the day when I could assume everybody online had some beginning C programming class at some point. != is “not equal to”

      • Brandon B

        I realize that the incoherent structure probably bothers me more than most. I’ve also decided that, for this Turing test, I’ll err on the side of assuming better arguments are more honest, because I’d like to reward people with better arguments. Those are the biases I’m working with.

        Nevertheless, this is a very weak argument, and is as likely as I’ve seen so far to make Christianity look bad. Right now, I don’t mind being a logic nazi.

        The entry starts with some throat-clearing and ideas that go nowhere. First, the author discards the question of sacramental marriage, assuming that it’s moot. I disagree with that decision because I think our theology should somehow influence our politics.

        Next, there’s the assertion that ancient Romans liked monogamy more than ancient Jews. No conclusion is drawn from this; it’s a dead end.

        By saying “objective purposes exist”, I think the author is trying to say that things like marriage have a purpose. However, it’s not explicit, nor is it clear what the author would include in “things like marriage.” Does government have a purpose? Do rocks have a purpose? Does the number 42 have a purpose? The argument might be more or less persuasive if it’s something like “social institutions have a purpose” rather than “everything has a purpose”. At the very least, the argument could be structure differently.

        Next, the author starts evaluating old and new forms of polygamy, in a very cursory way, with no outside references. It is said that old polygamy sucked because woman got a raw deal. Why does that matter? What does that have to do with objective purposes? It is said that new polygamy sucks because participants can’t regulate their relationships and everyone will get STDs. Why does that matter? What does that have to do with objective purposes? We’re having an argument about what is good and what is bad, so explicitly drawing connections between concrete examples of good/bad and your conceptual model of good/bad is very important.

        The author then says something that sounds like it might be a purpose for marriage: raising children (which would have been good to know before we started examining old & new polygamy). After one sentence, however, the author switches to explaining why polygamy is bad even if it accomplishes the purpose of raising children. The author falls back on saying that this variation of polygamy would “reduce the basic romantic unit from a couple to an individual”. Why is that a bad thing? What does that have to do with objective purposes? I think someone who favors hookup culture might think that’s a good thing.

        Also, the author focuses on one variation of polygamy, and fails to deal with polygamy where all partners are equal. It seems to be assumed that egalitarian polygamy is worse for raising children – but that’s the meat of the argument. You can’t just assume that.

        I’ve rambled enough, so I’ll refrain from complaining about the second half.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Thanks, I see what you are saying now. You don’t really disagree with the chain of logic- you’re just so unfamiliar with the author’s assumptions that he might as well be writing from the moon.

          It would help if he used formal language you were familiar with, instead of equivalent plain English (the most glaring one is “objective purpose” rather than “ontological purpose”) but other than that, the assumptions are valid.

          • Brandon B

            You’re right, I don’t disagree with the chain of logic. I think the fact that the chain of logic needs to be more explicit than this, or it hardly qualifies as an argument.

          • Brutus

            The throwaway line in which the author indicates that it is simply not conceivable to love and raise non-biological offspring is very illuminating.

            I would rather this be a bad attempt to pretend to be Christian, because I don’t want to believe that people actually hold that belief.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            It’s badly written because it is in English. It would be more proper to say that one may adopt out of Philia (sacrificial love out of friendship) but that the fullness of Storge (the natural love a parent feels for a child) is denied to such a relationship.

          • Brutus

            One could say that, but it presupposes that there is something socially important about the biological relationships.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I would think that there is something socially important about the biological relationships is so obvious it need not be stated.

            Are you attempting to claim that biological relationships aren’t important?

          • Brutus

            The only social importance of being the genetic donor is related to evidence of a violation the expectation/contract of monogamy (and to a lesser extent, legal issues).

            Or is there some mechanism by which paternity (distinct from ‘perception of paternity’) makes the slightest bit of difference?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Plenty of others. There are, for instance, plenty of allergies that are genetically based, and therefore, learning to cook from one’s biological parents can be significantly important in the quality of one’s life. There are talents and mental illnesses that also run in families, and knowing one’s biological parents can be immensely helpful in dealing with those. And that’s just from the child’s point of view. The very existence of storge can turn an “unwanted child” into a “loved and appreciated” child by the time it is a year old- and unlike agape or philia, which is a conscious decision, storge is phenome and pheromone based and works on a subconscious level.

            That’s just a few. The benefits to being raised by one’s own biological parents are so many, that even the United Nations recognizes this as a basic human right.

            I’m not trying to put down adoption, or other methods of parenting. But it is a biological fact that this divorce between genetic donors and children, always harms the child.

            And thus, it is *always* in the best interests of the child to keep them with their biological parents, unless prevented by other circumstances.

          • Brutus

            Are you claiming that one’s biological children smell differently enough from other children to have a physiological effect? How distantly related should I expect someone to be before I don’t have receptors for their storge pheromones?

            I’m comfortable asserting that the vast majority of talents and mental illnesses that are hereditary have a small or negligible genetic component.

            Regardless, even if I accept all of those claims, there is no reason not to have additional parents in the family.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Live and learn, I guess:

            http://nanopatentsandinnovations.blogspot.com/2012/05/that-new-baby-smell-body-odor-reveals.html
            Do your own research beyond that, nothing I say will make a difference.

          • Brutus

            If you offered evidence that it was unsurprising for an adoptive parent to put the adopted child back into the adoption system, that would be evidence for your position.

            What you offered was evidence that it is surprising, rare, or otherwise noteworthy enough to make national news at least one of the times it happened. That is weak Bayesian evidence against your position. (My understanding of your position: “Someone who chooses to raise a non-biological child is expected to be a worse parent than someone who raises a biological child.”

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I’m not going for Bayseian evidence. I’m going for “Here’s a hint of why your model of the world may not be accurate, go and learn something more”.

          • Brutus

            From “Building Effective Post-Adoption Services: What is the Empirical Foundation?” : “Adoptive families are not very different from families in general. Most have positive experiences. which vary somewhat with age, and do not use substantial amounts of services to achieve these good relationships.” Cited: Brooks, Allen, and Barth, 2000.

            I’m not sure why I would see evidence that I was essentially correct and conclude that my model of the world was less accurate, but a tiny bit of research leaves me more certain that magic pheromones don’t cause different affects in biological parents than they do in adults in general.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I’m talking about “New Baby Smell” and how it denotes kinship in a subconscious way. I’m all for adopted families overcoming that in other ways, but that does NOT erase the storge that arises from the smell of your own infant. I have no idea what your reason for denying that bit of evidence is, and I don’t care.

          • Brutus

            You’re asserting that ‘your’ child smells different from ‘their’ child; my understanding of biology and chemistry causes me to assign a very low prior to that, and the evidence that skimming the research provides is weakly against it.

            The probability of a pheromone which babies in general generate which increases attraction in general isn’t what I’m disputing; I’m disputing that there exist enough different pheromones and receptors for each person or small related cluster to have a different one which is passed genetically but not present in the general population.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            You do realize that 22 variations mathematically creates a unique identifier for all 7 billion people currently alive, right?

            And that the human nose, on the butanol scale, has six different intensities, that combined with three different chemicals, *easily* gives us enough variation to cover every individual human being on the planet, let alone grouped into families of similar smell?

          • Brutus

            It’s not the ~6e7 people currently alive that need to be covered; it’s the ~9e14 potential couples, each of which might have a child that needs both ‘his’ and ‘her’ pheromone. One possibility would be to encode that information in ova and sperm organelles, rather than in DNA. However, I don’t believe the biology behind that theory works.

            Oh, and it needs to change enough that not everyone who had an ancestor who immigrated on the Mayflower has the same receptor/chemical combination, while remaining accurate. I can’t see that happening except through a ‘smells like me’ heuristic, which has a vanishingly low prior due to complexity.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            What you believe is immaterial, the facts exist regardless of your belief in them.

          • Martha O’Keeffe

            No, that’s not what they’re saying. Human nature being what it is, you may think you’re perfectly willing to accept your partner becoming pregnant by a secondary partner/getting a secondary pregnant, but (I think especially if it’s accidental/unintentional), until it happens you don’t know how you’ll react.

            Jealousy, feelings of ‘does she/he think the other is a better choice than me?’, resentment, blaming the child for being an obstacle between the two primary partners – these can all take you by storm. It’s one thing to accept that Alice goes to visit Bob three nights a week, it’s another thing to have Bob over all the time now that Alice is carrying his child.

          • Brutus

            Why would Alice and Bob’s relationship change if Alice becomes pregnant?

            Why is the child of a poly relationship not equally the child of everyone in that relationship?

        • Martha O’Keeffe

          I think what the writer is trying to do, in leaving out a discussion of sacramental language, is precisely because of the objection to “I think our theology should somehow influence our politics” on the part of non-believing readers – and indeed not all believers either.

          That can quickly spiral down into “which theology, whose theology, why your theology and not mine, and keep your theology off my politics”, so avoiding it in an argument aimed at a secular audience seems best.

          Secondly, the “the assertion that ancient Romans liked monogamy more than ancient Jews” is, I think, a shorthand for the “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem” question in theology, and is meant more towards ‘Christianity developed a theology of marriage building on the existing social structures outside of Judaism, where there was precedent for polygamy as certainly permitted to the Patriarchs and so the Scriptural basis for an argument permitting polygamy was not followed” – the accusation, if you will, by the Eastern Orthodox that Western Christianity is too legalistic, too philosophic, too secular and less mystical :-)

          • Brandon B

            Your points are interesting, but I’m not about to give the author of this entry credit for them.

            If we were primarily discussing polygamy, I think I would try to be more generous to whoever was writing, because things the author could have said are still relevant to the issue of polygamy. In this Ideological Turing Test, however, polygamy is not the main question; the main question is the true beliefs of the author, as demonstrated by the argument the author actually put forth.

            There are plenty of ways of expanding on the arguments actually made in these entries, especially if we take some time to research what other Christians have said. That would be counterproductive, though, because the differences between what this author is saying and what other Christians have said is exactly what we want to examine.

            Edit: grammar.

          • Martha O’Keeffe

            “(T)he differences between what this author is saying and what other Christians have said is exactly what we want to examine.”

            That is so, but it’s not all of it, and maybe there’s a bit of confusion on everyone’s part about the purpose of the test: since this is mixed atheist and believers, it’s not just about “compare the Catholic with the Methodist with the progressive non-denominationalist with the emergent with the Orthodox”, it’s also about “do these views (a) sound convincing coming from a professed believer or atheist and (b) make a convincing argument?”

            Since the atheists won’t (I assume) be arguing from religious grounds, an argument constructed on secular or philosophical grounds not directly appealing to revelation is going to be one of the choices available for a Christian making their pitch, and if we have to compare “atheist argument pro-con with Christian argument pro-con”, then it makes it easier.

            I mean, there’s more to this than “I condemn polygamy because the Pope says so” because you can equally say “I promote polygamy because the Mahabharata says so”, and that is two religious opinions, and where do we go from there arguing with a secular opponent on should we or shouldn’t we legalise polygamy or decriminalise bigamy?

  • Slow Learner

    I’m fairly highly confident this is a Christian. If it is an atheist, the writer gets maximum points for being just as infuriatingly wrong-on-so-many-levels-where-do-I-even-start as a post on Bad Catholic.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    I was thinking “Likely Christian” right up until I read the part “we Catholics” :-)
    So, either a slip on the part of the writer or a fiendishly cunning bluff?

    Argument is okay, but not likely to change minds. I think that the polyamorous would have certain counter-arguments re: risks of disease, agreeing or disagreeing on continuing a pregnancy where it is (I am assuming) accidental or unintended – frankly, and I apologise if I sound brusque, I would imagine if they’re already open to the notion of multiple sexual/romantic relationships, abortion is not going to be a huge obstacle here – and creating family units outside of the tight modern nuclear family circle of mother, father, maximum two kids (increasing preference for one).

  • Mariana Baca

    I think this is Very Likely Christian and my favorite entry so far argument-wise. If an atheist wrote it: kudos!

  • TGWWS

    I would point out for the record that the way the author makes distinctions, and the sort of distinctions made (look particularly at the first sentences of each answer, where he/she sets up for the rest of the reply) are highly characteristic of Catholic or near-Catholic apologetics.

    Also, on knowing “a lot” about polyamory–agreed with Mariana Baca. All you really need to be able to talk this extensively about it is to hang out with a sufficient number of TV-watching young people–which is not (of course) to say that the author’s depiction is accurate (I wouldn’t know).

    Bonus: “most of the Pentateuch, myth doesn’t mean bunk b.t.w.” is really indicative of a Christian writing. Making that kind of distinction-cum-admission suggests someone who (1) has read their C.S. Lewis and/or Pope Benedict, and (2) is quite comfortable in their faith. There’s a lack of defensiveness there that’s telling.

  • Quatsch83

    I am surprised at the discussion regarding this post. As soon as “objective purposes” was mentioned I was confident that this was written by Leah herself. If that is not the case I would be very surprised.

    The dodge in the bonus question and tying it back to “Leah’s recent favorite” in the 3rd person was clever too :)

    • Dan

      Leah mentioned that the formatting was messed up when she received this entry. She added in paragraph breaks based on her best guesses (see the little intro to this piece).

      Unless Leah is fibbing about that, it isn’t her writing.

      • LeahLibresco

        The formatting is now correct, the author emailed me.

      • Quatsch83

        Well, there goes that theory. Perhaps I should read the italics next time.

        If this was an atheist, then they did a great job, but I still think it is genuine.

  • Melody

    From reading the first two sections of this post, I was convinced the writer was atheist (and though I am a Christian, his/ her thought processes remind me of my own) our at least divergent with the general Christian view. Another reason I thought the author was not Christian is that some of the thoughts were stated but not in a clear way, as if looked into but not yet understood in such a way as to be easily communicated (the historical aspects, like the “Roman vs Hebrew side of Jesus’ milieu”…?). The literary genre section struck me oppositely, but I went with my original impression and guessed very likely atheist. Great original arguments, whether my guess is right or wrong!

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