[Turing 2013] Atheist Entry #11

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

 

Polyamory

I feel that polyamorous dating is perfectly ethical; there’s nothing wrong with honest, respectful, and loving relationships, and I have seen no evidence that polyamorous relationships are any less likely to be honest, respectful, and loving. Nevertheless, I think that polygamous marriage probably shouldn’t be legal without some major legal changes.

Gay marriage doesn’t involve many changes to the structure of marriage itself, except for switching “bride” and “groom” over to “party one” and “party two” on forms. Legalized polygamy would require a radical rethinking of aspects of marriage. If Jane marries Joe and Greg, are Joe and Greg married to each other? Do they have any legal relationship with each other whatsoever? Will “brother-husband” be made into a legal category?

Poly marriage could be easily exploited by unscrupulous people. Spouses are not legally required to testify against each other; what’s to stop a mobster from requiring all his enforcers to marry him so that they can’t be made to testify? If Joe has six wives, do they all get Social Security survivor benefits when he dies? Can you marry all your overseas friends so they can immigrate to the US? The government could only give marital benefits to relationships it deems ‘genuine’ (as, indeed, it does with immigration), but that is both an infringement on personal privacy and likely to be very expensive to implement.

It is possible the conclusion is that the government should get out of the marriage business altogether, beyond some minimal procedures for power of attorney, hospital visitation, child support and custody, etc. However, I’m not certain of this claim. Marriage is important for social stability, raising children, and encouraging committed lifelong relationships, so the state has an interest in incentivizing it. Similarly, many of the easily exploitable laws are actually good ideas: people should be allowed to live in the same country as their spouses, and it would be inhumane to cut off the Social Security someone was using to live on when the person they loved their entire lives died.

Furthermore, not that many people would even benefit from legalized polygamy. Polyamorous people are a tiny percentage of the population, and many poly people have no or only one life partner. People who would want to get married to multiple people are a fraction of a fraction. If polyamory became more popular, it might be reasonable to redo the cost-benefit analysis– particularly since if there were more poly people we might have more of a sense of what shape polygamous marriage ought to take.

 

Euthanasia

I actually have a far more extreme viewpoint on euthanasia than most people, even most atheists. I think assisted suicide should be legal, for everyone, even those who don’t have terminal illnesses. There should be common-sense regulations: people should have to talk to a counsellor to make sure that they are rationally capable of making the decision and not being forced, pressured, or coerced. If the person is ill or disabled, they should understand the self-reported quality of life of people with their disability (which is often much higher than people suppose) and the chance of recovery. They should have a waiting period of perhaps a month to make sure that they won’t change their minds.

I believe people do not have the responsibility to continue lives that are, in their best judgment, too painful to continue living– whether for reasons of mental or physical illness. I do not believe there is a moral requirement that people be miserable their entire lives. The only one capable of making the judgment is the individual themselves: they alone know what seemingly-horrible things they can be happy despite and what seemingly minor things destroy them; they are the least likely to have interests they put ahead of their own happiness.

This right should be extended to the mentally ill. Many mentally ill people are suicidal because they’re irrational: they believe they’re too horrible to deserve to live, or they don’t grasp that things will stop hurting if they hold on for one more day. However, some mentally ill people are suicidal because being mentally ill fucking hurts. I myself have a mental illness for which treatment was only developed in the past few decades; if I had been born before treatment was developed, I would rather die than continue to feel like I was for the rest of my life. I don’t think that’s “crazy”; I think that’s a rational response to extreme pain. (Of course, we should develop screening measures to distinguish between rationally and irrationally suicidal people.)

There is also the issue of coercion: both direct coercion and, more insidiously, societal coercion (for instance, for disabled people to die so they aren’t burdens on their families). I think both kinds of coercing people into euthanasia are evil. I find it dubious, however, that some of the people who are most concerned about coercion into euthanasia have no problems with coercing and guilting people into not killing themselves. (By this I mean both involuntary commitment and the “think of the people who love you grieving! Think of the people whom you could help in the future who’d never meet you! Suicide is really a selfish choice” school of suicide prevention.) While disrespecting bodily autonomy in a way that leaves people alive is better than doing it in a way that leaves people dead, can we try not doing it at all?

Incidentally, I find distinguishing between intentional killing and not giving people medical treatment to be horrific. If you take out someone’s feeding tube, they will slowly starve to death; how is that superior to a quick and painless death, other than making you feel the warm glow of self-satisfaction that you didn’t actually kill them? I care about reducing pain and about bodily autonomy more than I care about preserving moral purity.

 

 

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."

  • Brendan Hodge

    Hmmm. I’m a big divided on this one.

    Most attempts to oppose legal polyamory on practical grounds, while saying it’s okay on moral grounds, have struck me as hollow sounding, but this sounded moderately believable in overall tone — certainly a subjective measure.

    On the euthanasia section, I was feeling like it was sounding a bit too extreme (though I do know a couple atheists who think this way) but the point about how it would be better to avoid coercion in favor of life as well as coercion in favor of death seemed like a somewhat unique take and added a ring of verisimilitude for me. I’ll go likely atheist.

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

    Um, likely atheist? I dunno, I think I’ve said “atheist” on too many of these. After more than 20 entries, it’s hard to read every one as carefully as I really ought to…

  • Brutus

    >If polyamory became more popular, it might be reasonable to redo the cost-benefit analysis

    What, no appreciation for the rights of small enough minorities?

    • Dan

      Interesting point. The author argues against polyamory based on utilitarianism (cost to society from polyamorous marriage outweighs benefits to those entering polyamorous marriage). He does not believe in an absolute right to marriage benefits.

      Yet, in the second argument, bodily autonomy is an absolute right (I’d cheekily call it one grounded in “moral purity.”). Apparently, a person may kill themselves if they are in pain from a chronic illness despite any negative effects it may have on their family, friends, and society. As a side note, I wonder if the author believes that mandatory seatbeat and helmet laws are wrong. Another interesting point would be the author’s view on a real-life situation like in the case of Queen v. Dudley and Stephens (shipwreck where survivors killed and ate one of their fellow sailors to survive)–would a group’s bodily autonomy to stay alive outweigh another’s ?

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      How small does a small minority have to be, or rather, how large? Especially when it affects in a knock-on fashion the larger majority?

      Take gay marriage – yeah, yeah, we’re tired of flogging that horse. But what are the percentage of LGBT people in any general population? I’ve seen it estimated from 2%-5%, with some estimates hitting 10% and those being counter-argued as overestimations.

      For the sake of (let’s say) 5% of the population, we are going to change the definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “a couple made up of one man and one woman or one man and one man or one woman and one woman or one male-identified and one man or…” which, whatever way you slice is, IS a re-definition of what “marriage” has been understood to involve.

      And it’s not good enough to say “Let’s have civil unions which will give many or all the legal entitlements of civil marriage to same-sex couples” because where that has happened (and it’s happening in my own country right now), the push continues for full same-sex marriage – even in some cases where there is full legal civil marriage but the push is on to make churches solemnise these unions, not just have it in a registry office (I know it’s the “Daily Mail” which never met a scare story it didn’t like, but it’s a real story for all that).

      So we can’t just say “Okay, there may be 0.5% of the population who both want or would be interested in forming polyamorous relationships and want those recognised by the state for certain legal benefits; let’s give them a set-up called “domestic groups” but not change the rules on full marriage” because that won’t be good enough – someone is going to protest “Our six-person family is just as much a marriage as your two-person one!” and they won’t be satisfied until they get the social recognition.

      So – is it worth it for the 99.5% to change in order to accommodate the 0.5%, or do we say “There must be at least 2% who want this”, or do we say “Suck it up, a majority means a majority and what you want for yourselves isn’t worth the cost to the rest of us”?

      • Randy Gritter

        I think the gay marriage numbers are high. Saying 5% are gay is high but that is not the point. You ignore the fact that a lower percentage of gays are interested in marriage. Monogamy in general is less common among homosexuals. They also don’t have the scenario where an unplanned pregnancy causes them to consider marriage. Once the fad wears off we will have a better idea but gay marriage will be quite rare.

      • Brutus

        I assume you’ve considered and rejected the slippery slope considerations.

        To answer your question: The minority needs to be considered if it exists.

  • rgrekejin

    Wait, this is the final entry? Why are there 11 in one category and 12 in the other?

    • LeahLibresco

      Excellent question! One contestant sent me an answer for the first round but not the second. (The deadlines were staggered to give the contestants a bit more time to write). You could try to guess which entry in Round One doesn’t have a counterpart in round two for bonus points.

      • Brendan Hodge

        So… How soon do we get to see results?

        [bouncing up and down]

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Likely Christian for me. Why? Because of the *state’s interest* defense of traditional marriage. I’ve NEVER heard any atheist put that forth except for George Orwell in his pro-life book _Keep the Aspidistra Flying_.

  • http://lotharson.wordpress.com/ Lothars Sohn

    I’m a Christian and I’m clearly against Polyamory and Euthanasia but a proponent of gay marriage and its recognition by the Church as a valid lifestyle which isn’t sinful in and of itself.

    All this flows from my love for my fellow human beings.

    While I believe that Euthanasia isn’t good, I think it should be allowed to give to terminally ill patients Cannabis, but as Cocaine, Heroine, LSD, whatever helps them ending their life as pleasantly as possible.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • Grady

    Well, Leah, since you think polygamy is acceptable, what do you think about what Jesus said about marriage?
    Does that even matter around here?

    • LeahLibresco

      Hi Grady, this is a guest post as part of this year’s Ideological Turing Test and was not written by me nor does it reflect my beliefs.

  • Grady

    And I note that you were worried about Polygamy being taken advantage of, how how about the suicide option?
    Seriously, are you really still an atheist?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

    I just came across the “Tokyo Test,” a proposed next step beyond a Turing Test. In it, the program must pass the entrance exam for University of Tokyo.

    http://bigthink.com/endless-innovation/artificial-intelligence-from-turing-test-to-tokyo-test

  • alexander stanislaw

    When is the analysis coming?


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