[Turing 2013] Atheist Entry #3

This is the third 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

There is no good reason to oppose polygamy. None whatsoever. Most media coverage of polygamy these days concerns sensational cases with arranged marriage, patriarchy, misogyny, incest, and paedophilia, but that does not mean that polygamy necessarily entails any of those crimes and abuses. The polygamy you need to go out of your way to find, the polygamy that is practised by more-than-couples who are living together as if they had the plural marriage they cannot legally gain, is often surprisingly egalitarian. Women appear to take multiple husbands just as often as men take multiple wives. Children have more role models to follow and all family members receive ample support. The informal communities that grow around this lifestyle value consent, honesty, and accountability. Of course this is anecdotal information gleaned from those few secular polygamists who reveal their lives to journalists. There is little information to go on. And that is just the point: we have insufficient and inconsistent data. Until we have evidence that secular legal polygamy results in sexism or paedophilia, people must be legally free to choose to polygamy. (See my defence of autonomy in the euthanasia section, which does double duty as the moral-political foundation of both arguments.)

The section title asks us to discuss polyamory, which extends much further than polygamy. Polyamory is having romantic relationships with multiple people simultaneously. This is not only morally acceptable but also quite common. Many people casually date multiple people at a time. Moreover, there isn’t always a clear divide between polyamory and monoamory. Even if romantic relationships are discrete and countable and you have no more than one of them, your emotional situation may not be so clear. Is flirting with multiple people monoamory? Is dating when you still have feelings for your ex-partner monoamory? There is no clear demarcation. It is unfair to expect people to have romantic feelings for only one person at a time. It is fairly common for people to love and be in love with two or more people, and such feelings cannot be unethical because they are not chosen. Of course many people do not want to share a romantic partner, and that’s fine too. What is important is emotional honesty, autonomy, and informed consent. Conforming to arbitrary and inherited norms about what a romantic relationship should look like is not important. As a friend of mine says, not understanding another person’s feelings does not give you a license to condemn those feelings. I would add that it makes your condemnation even less justifiable because you cannot condemn what you do not understand. Isn’t that the idea behind this Turing Test?

 

Euthanasia

I want to get a common argument against euthanasia out of the way immediately. Very few people who oppose euthanasia actually support policies which recognize the supposed “sanctity of all life” on which they base their opposition to euthanasia. If someone truly believed that all life was sacred, they would be a vegan. If someone truly believed that all human life was sacred and that taking a human life could only be acceptable in extraordinary circumstances, they would much more frequently oppose military and police use of deadly force, and they would support radical environmental, anti-poverty, and universal health care policies. Thus we can reject that argument. Life is not intrinsically sacred and almost no one thinks so in an actionable way, especially not the social conservatives who usually oppose euthanasia.

What we must defend before life is autonomy. Obviously there must be limits to autonomy: we cannot use our autonomy to act in ways that unreasonably limit another person’s autonomy. We can say this because autonomy isn’t an intrinsic right. There are no such things as rights; what we call rights are necessary politico-legal fictions. We must fight for maximum autonomy, even when it allows us to do things which might harm us in the long run, because if we allow political power to curb our autonomy we would become vulnerable to politicians or factions which would impose a perverse morality upon us, which would be much more likely to inflict much more serious harm on more of us than would result from our own indiscretions. However, if we fight for maximum autonomy we must not do so in the way of libertarians. A laissez-faire state is not free because economic and educational inequalities would result in radically limited autonomy for many people. Good legal policies—for instance, taxation or gun restrictions–might appear to limit autonomy at first, but if successful they would promote an equal distribution of maximum autonomy across the system. So in order to oppose euthanasia, we must have evidence to suggest that a person choosing euthanasia would significantly limit other people’s autonomy. As far as I can tell, we have no such evidence. Therefore, we cannot oppose euthanasia.

However, all I have so far argued is that euthanasia must be legally allowed. The implied question is whether euthanasia is morally permissible. That sort of thing would need to be decided case by case. I doubt, however, that a person in extraordinary pain which will never be alleviated could be doing more harm to others by dying than they would do to themselves by living, so I predict that euthanasia is often morally permissible, maybe an active good.

And what of euthanizing someone incapable of consent because they are a minor, incapable of communication, or incapable of conscious thought? If I am arguing for euthanasia on the grounds of autonomy, could I support euthanasia when the patient’s family or guardian has chosen it for them? By my reasoning euthanasia is permissible in these situations if either 1. the patient’s known wishes are consulted as much as possible or 2. the patient is incapable of exercising any agency and will likely remain this way, on the grounds that under 1. autonomy is still being upheld as much as possible and under 2. autonomy is no longer at issue.

 

Bonus

Card’s idea factor would probably be most important to me. However, my answer for the best genre is the near-future dystopian novel, which would suggest that the milieu factor might be important, too. Since my ethics are concerned primarily with the maximization of autonomy and the minimization of harm, I would need a political dimension to my novel. Since I am also interested in the conflict between political decentralization, which I consider desirable, and the need for strong government to override popular prejudices, such as the legal and political machinery around Prop 8, a dystopian world with a strong government and violent extremists would be a good place to explore ideas that interest me and shape my concerns. This means that milieu would be necessary to explore the ideas. You could say that the idea factor would arise in the conflict between the characters and the milieu. I might be cheating in this answer, though. I suspect that most people could use a dystopian novel to illustrate their political opinions. The difference might be that, while some people would focus more on social dissolution or anarchy, I would focus on oppression.

 

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."

  • CalmCanary

    Likely Christian. Real liberals don’t bite bullets quite so enthusiastically.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      There are Christian liberals, though; those on the left-side theologically of denominations as well as those on the right-side. As Exhibit A, I present for your consideration the new Episcopalian dean of the National Cathedral, the Rev. Gary Hall.

      As a side-note, the bon mot about “I’m trying to figure out Jesus as a son of God and a fully human being, if he has both fully human and a fully divine set of chromosomes” makes me want to weep and tear my hair out, because the Hypostatic Union was one of the questions considered at the 5th century Council of Chalcedon and no, Dean Hall, it is not a matter of magic divine chromosomes.

      But I guess being a hip, smart, funny, frank, liturgically progressive clergyperson means you don’t crack open those dusty old tomes of theology which would tell you the fundamentals of the belief system in which you are applying to have a position of authority?

      This is why I prefer the honest atheists on here and elsewhere who think the whole megilla is hooey and have no problem saying so; God save me from the hip and progressive who are so smart, they are unaware that yes, actually, we have already considered these questions because believe it or not, smart people also existed before the second half of the 20th century.

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

    Ow… this felt laden with tells.

    In general, it feels forced. Like you might expect from someone who doesn’t really have an opinion, but picked a side to debate for fun. I can see someone arguing that way sincerely, if they committed to a position and then found themselves floundering a bit about how to defend it. But I wouldn’t expect someone to do that on the ITT, I’d expect them to be more honest about their uncertainty.

    Specific things:
    1) Speaking confidently pro-polygamy / polyamory, but using the terms idiosyncratically.
    2) Speaking confidently on those subjects, then saying “insufficient data, therefore they must be legal” – felt like a bit of a strawman.
    3) Sounding very libertarian, then saying “if we fight for maximum autonomy we must not do so in the way of libertarians.” A real liberal would have kept things from heading in that direction, and the cadence of the sentence sounds religious.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      Unless you’re saying that only religious types or conservative types are incoherent, Chris, I don’t see where you get your doubts about “a real liberal” and “religious-sounding cadences”.
      This may indeed be someone who picked a side to debate, but if they don’t have strong opinions one way or another, why pick the pro-polyamory/pro-euthanasia side? If you want to start the skin and hair flying, why not claim to be an atheist who is against euthanasia?
      To me, it feels more like someone who may not have had a definite position, but when faced with the necessity to pick a side, as you put it, found that the pro- side rather than the anti- side chimed more with their preferences.

    • Dan

      What do you mean by “real liberal?” I only ask because “liberal” tends to be defined differently by different people. That said, I agree that it seemed forced.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Liberals and atheists can be zealots too, you don’t need a God to be a zealot.

    • Evan

      As a Catholic, I felt the same way. The examples were too extreme; the only atheists I’ve encountered who truly believe statements this forced are trolls, and I don’t think they’d be part of the ITT.

      “We must not do so in the way of libertarians” was very odd, especially after making many libertarian arguments throughout the piece. It seemed the author associated libertarians with conservatives, and thought that an atheist would never be a libertarian (I know a few who are), and therefore wanted to clarify that s/he is a liberal, and ended up contradicting his/her argument.

      • avalpert

        I would go so far as to guess that a libertarian is more likely to be an atheist than a liberal is (if more atheists are liberals that is just because there are more liberals than libertarians).

        From Rand and Mencken to Penn and Teller libertarian and atheism mixes pretty naturally.

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

      For what it’s worth, I’m not an atheist. You’re right about that. But I do support the legalization and non-stigmatization of polygamy/polyamory, in large part for the reasons I gave here. I also don’t oppose euthanasia, but my argument for that has more Jesus in it. My politics are a bit of a mix of anarchist and socialist, and I borrowed some of the argument for an anarchist/preference utilitarian friend who I happen to agree with on a lot of issues, so maybe that has explanatory value?

      However, I was pretending to be more confident than I was in order to distance this entry from my guest posts on this blog, under the narcissistic delusion that people might recognize me. The confident speech that I know best is preaching, so I guess that might explain the cadence.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    All the answers to date have been really interesting. I picked atheist for this one, and reasonably strong but not overwhelming arguments.
    Provocative, though, and we could kick off a great argument in the comments if we were to parse them out :-)
    Dystopian novel is another interesting choice, and I agree it would be a great way of working out in theory how the choice of society this person would prefer might work and might fail.

  • somervta

    “Even if romantic relationships are discrete and countable”

    Great. Now I’m not going to be able to read the rest without being distracted by the thought of what having an uncountable number of romantic relationships would be like!

    • LeahLibresco

      “Darling, this isn’t what it looks like! I’m trying to test the continuum hypothesis so I needed an uncountable number of partners!”

      • LeahLibresco

        [resisting, with effort, any puns about bijective mappings]

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I think there’s an interpretation of John Paul The Great’s Theology of the Body that covers that.

      Hmm….do you think the government should be able to register marriage to God? I think becoming a nun would get a lot more complicated.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      Would unrequited love count as a romantic relationship? After all, if party X feels all the pangs of love for party Y but they never get together – and the most famous example of this is probably Dante and Beatrice – would that constitute a romantic relationship?
      All the people we’ve ever had a crush on, or fancied, or saw on a bus and thought “My goodness, he or she seems nice”? That might rack up the ‘uncountable’ number, especially if the recipient of the affection is unaware of how many people are directing their affections towards them.

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

        I meant that if romantic relationships weren’t clearly definable, you wouldn’t always be able to tell whether any given relationship was romantic, and so you couldn’t always count the number of romantic relationships you have. I kind of forgot that there was a different, specific mathematical meaning for that word, and that a lot of people here would know that meaning…

        But I like your interpretation, too.

  • autolukos

    “It is unfair to expect people to have romantic feelings for only one person at a time” and “If someone truly believed that all human life was sacred and that taking a human life could only be acceptable in extraordinary circumstances, they would much more frequently oppose military and police use of deadly force, and they would support radical environmental, anti-poverty, and universal health care policies” both strongly suggest a (fairly respectable overall) impostor to me.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      They would if I hadn’t heard *exactly* the same arguments repeated over the last 30 years on the Internet and on FidoNet and in the newspapers as reasons to oppose Chasity and Life.

      Here’s the sad part- I actually think people believe those arguments, and for that reason, this week, I had to agree with Michael Voris that Pat Robertson isn’t pro-life:

      http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/2013/08/i-dont-agree-with-michael-voris-very.html

      • autolukos

        It’s the language, not the arguments. In the first case, “unfair” usually appears (at least in my experience) in conservative summaries of liberal arguments, not the arguments themselves. The second is less clear-cut, but “radical” doesn’t quite fit there; again, it sounds like a conservative summary of a liberal argument. Just my thoughts, though.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Is that an east coast/ west coast thing? Radical has been used in a positive way in my community for so long that I don’t see it as negative.

          • autolukos

            I definitely know and have read people who use radical freely and proudly, even for decidedly non-radical things. I have also encountered people who try to avoid using it even for truly radical things. I would expect more proponents of the policies in the post to soft-pedal their impact and hence to avoid radical, but I freely admit to going pretty far in an uncertain direction.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      The unfairness of prescribing LOVE is an argument that’s been around for a long time; first it was in the service of “free love”, then making divorce easier, then for gay rights – why not let the polyamorists have a turn at using “But how can you be so cruel and heartless as to deny us the right to LOOOOVE, like every human has a right to do?”

      I don’t see it as an impostor because there are plenty who – without seeming to observe the contradiction in what they are saying – both claim it is no business of government/the state/society whom they love and demand that government/the state/society officially recognise their love.

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

      I actually believe both of those things, as a Christian.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    “they would support radical environmental, anti-poverty, and universal health care policies.”

    Does that mean I get to be human pro-life, because I am consistently pro-life, and DO support radical environmental (managed, but very radical, I support things like growing food in urban landscapes, buildings that use ambient energy and have zero net grid energy usage, opening dams to let migrating salmon pass, etc), anti-poverty (one small child in Africa with AIDS is worth more than the GDP of the United States to me), and universal health care policies (though I’m a bit of a radical there too, I support community and patient owned co-ops, because health care is just something that when governed centrally, is always done wrong)?

    Another “likely atheist, I want to have coffee with this person”.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Oh, yeah, and I also oppose war and the Death Penalty, at least according to the bumper sticker on my car.

      http://madprof.home.mindspring.com/ethic.html

      I’m thinking about ordering a few and giving them away at Church.

    • ACN

      Says one child w/ AIDS is worth more than US GDP.

      Opposes condoms.

      *facepalm*

      • TheodoreSeeber

        I don’t understand why you think the two are incompatible with each other.

        With the condom, the one small child with AIDS would never be born; if I was to NOT oppose condoms, that would be bigotry against the poor.

        If I’m going to be consistent with holding human life- even human life infected by deadly diseases- as a higher value than mere material wealth, then of course I avoid condoms, which prevent humans from being born.

        Which I guess leaves me with a double-facepalm over your apparent bigotry.
        —Edited: s/without/with

        • Niemand

          With the condom, the one small child with AIDS would never be born; if I
          was to NOT oppose condoms, that would be bigotry against the poor.

          Without people having irresponsible sex the child would never have been born. You’re also in favor of having sex with every person you meet? (Well, every fertile person of the opposite sex)?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Not necessarily, but condoms is “sex with every person you meet”, that’s the whole intent of birth control, to make women more sexually available to men.

            There is a reason why the male pill trials were pulled with testicular shrinkage as a side effect, and the female pill was ok’d to go to market with death as a side effect.

          • Niemand

            Actually, the overall death rate of OCP users is lower than of non-users. There are definitely people who shouldn’t be using OCP, but there are a number of women who benefit from it (aside from contraception) as well.

            But I thought your argument was that that AIDS infected child wouldn’t have existed without unprotected sex and that being born is good, no matter what the circumstances. Well, unprotected sex is still the best way to make babies. If you’re against condoms because they prevent babies from being born, you must be even more against abstinence. That theoretical child would never have been born if its parents had just walked away from each other with a handshake…

          • TheodoreSeeber

            My argument is that artificial birth control is in and of itself evil, and that those who push it are not morally different from your average usurer or street drug pusher- just trying to make money off of other people’s misery.

          • ACN

            Right, and the best way to argue that is by making up as much nonsense as possible, and hoping your audience is sufficiently daft that they fall for it.

            “Death as a side effect” is completely ludicrous and you know it. That’s why you walked it back.

          • ACN

            More lies about birth control?

            Check!

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Not lies, documented fact. Artificial estrogen can cause a blood pressure spike that can weaken the heart and cause heart attacks. And therefore, DEATH!

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      I’m anti-capital punishment as well, and I support universal health care – though I think the way ‘Obamacare’ (to use the convenient if pejorative political shorthand to refer to it) is shaping up is a dog’s dinner that is falling between the two stools of current private insurance schemes (which need overhauling everywhere, not just in the United States) and full National Health schemes (oh no, the dreaded socialised medicine!)

      I’m also anti-poverty because I’m (relatively) poor and I would like to have more money, thank you very much. I hum and haw a bit about “radical environmental” policies, because I have a vegan brother and he’s a pain in the bloody neck about this stuff (I have just narrowly avoided a blazing row with him about feeding the birds in my garden because it’s drawing vermin, the crows and pigeons are flocking to it and excreting birdlime all over the place, the next-door cats regard the bird feeders as a buffet table, etc. etc. etc.)

      Basically, the ‘radical environmental policies’ I’ve seen seem to consist of disregarding humans and not treating wild animals as wild animals – that is, ascribing all kinds of anthropomorphised virtues to them and then being surprised when some poor idiot who thinks he’s a bear expert gets his face chewed off by a bear which is an actual wild animal acting according to its nature and not something out of a Disney animated film.

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

        You need to meet better environmentalists. There are sane and polite ones, I swear.

  • Kristen inDallas

    Most of this screams strawman, but then …
    “Life is not intrinsically sacred and *almost no one thinks so* in an actionable way, especially not the social conservatives who usually oppose euthanasia.”
    The conflation of pro-life sentiments with pro-war, pro-death penalty politics is certainly not a new argument, but it is so infuriating. The childish idea that if you’ve met one conservative who disagrees with you about X and a different conservative who disagrees with you about Y, then all conservatives are therefore hypocitical is just so vexing (and I don’t even consider myself conservative). It’s not hard to imagine that a Christian could find this exact argument by trolling any number of athiest sites, I’m just having a hard time believing they would willfully perpetuate it.
    In the end I have to go atheist. Not because I wouldn’t expect a better argument from an atheist (I do – especially on this site) but because it seems more charitable to believe in this one anomaly as genuine than it would be to think a pretender thinks that this is what the average atheist sounds like.

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

      My bad on this. My apologies if I offended anyone. In fact, with that part, I took a Catholic argument using pro-life logic against the pro-war, pro-death penalty politics of American Republicans, and flipped it on its head. I was hoping, in doing so, to create a fairly novel atheist argument, so it wouldn’t look “bog-standard” (a phrase I learned during this test! I like it). Apparently all I did was reproduce a cliched response. Further, I recognize now that I was homogenizing conservatism, which 1) I know I’m sometimes guilty of and 2) also vexes me enormously. Mea culpa.

      • Kristen inDallas

        Your job was to convince us you were an atheist. You did convince me. So your inversion worked. :) No culpa necesary. I can’t speak for others but no offense was taken here. Me being vexed is more of a mental frustration than an emotional one… as in I can’t figure out how to square that sentence with the impressions of this person I am getting from the rest of the article. All that means is… Congratulations… you don’t fit in a box!

  • Jakeithus

    I’m going with likely Christian. There are a few instances where the author makes very strong statements, but makes them feel forced or unnatural.

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

    Long long ago in the first ITT a few atheists tried to play Jack Chick type dumb fundamentalists trying to exploit Poe’s law. It didn’t work.

    Interesting to see a Christian finally trying the same strategy, but my guess is the atheists won’t fall for it either.

  • Niemand

    If someone truly believed that all life was sacred, they would be a vegan.

    Nitpicky comment: Plants are alive too.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      From “The Napoleon of Notting Hill” by G.K. Chesterton:

      Then there was the opposite school. There was Mr. Edward Carpenter, who thought we should in a very short time return to Nature, and live simply and slowly as the animals do. And Edward Carpenter was followed by James Pickie, D.D. (of Pocahontas College), who said that men were immensely improved by grazing, or taking their food slowly and continuously, alter the manner of cows. And he said that he had, with the most encouraging results, turned city men out on all fours in a field covered with veal cutlets. Then Tolstoy and the Humanitarians said that the world was growing more merciful, and therefore no one would ever desire to kill. And Mr. Mick not only became a vegetarian, but at length declared vegetarianism doomed (“shedding,” as he called it finely, “the green blood of the silent animals”), and predicted that men in a better age would live on nothing but salt. And then came the pamphlet from Oregon (where the thing was tried), the pamphlet called “Why should Salt suffer?” and there was more trouble.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        I think it’s funny that Oregon had a reputation for being insanely liberal and experimental even back then. When I was younger, I appreciated that more.


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