[Turing 2013] Atheist Entry #8

This is the eighth 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

This is an interesting prospect, and it appears to be a largely cultural phenomenon. For centuries, the basic familial unit has been bi-parental. This applies primarily in the West, however. Other cultures, such as Islam or certain sects of Hindu, practice polygyny or polyandry. Often it is one person of one gender with multiples of the other—ex: one man and three women, or one woman and three men. I have not yet heard of a situation where three men and two women are all married to each other. As such, we find ourselves dealing with the situation of what could be determined “standard” polygamy—where one person has multiple spouses, but the spouses have no legal relation to each other.

For a number of reasons, legalized polygamy may cause some serious issues, not least of which is the enormous potential for abuse. Health insurance benefits and other things would probably skyrocket in price were it to become widespread—or, husbands or wives might have to pick which of their spouses were covered, depending on the plan in question. If it were reversed, however, and at least two of the multiple wives or husbands of the individual man or woman were to have health insurance which covers the spouse, who helps out there? Those are technical issues, however. It gets even messier if we speak of polyamory in a different context—that of gay marriage.

Let’s say, for instance, that two men decide to get married. They develop a mutual attraction to a third party, who is in turn attracted to both of them. Could both the men marry this third party, thus resulting in a very literal love triangle? What would happen if the triangle were to break in any given part? If A married B and then both of them married C, what happens if A and C were divorced but B and C were still married while A and B were still married? What if there are children involved? And so on. This is where polyamory not only becomes wildly impractical, it seems illogical. Why bother fighting for the right to marry in the first place if you don’t plan to be exclusive?

A quick poll of my friends about polyamory had all of them—from all across the political spectrum—rather unsettled about the idea. There is something deeply ingrained in the nature of people where we are inherently monogamous. One of my friends suggested that polyamory would be seen as a lack of commitment, which kind of defeats the entire purpose of marriage as “exclusive.” This idea is backed up by the chemistry of sex: it releases oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” which makes the partners feel close and “special” to each other. (It’s the same hormone which allows mothers to bond with their children shortly after childbirth.) So while a few people may be in favour of polyamory, I can’t see it presenting itself in the legal sphere—or succeeding at legalization, if it did—any time soon due to the “squick factor” which is prevalent.

 

Euthanasia

This question is difficult to answer because, as a rational person, I could possibly suggest that it may be permissible to end a life in the event of great suffering or a desire for suicide. Were I particularly pragmatic-to-a-fault, I also might suggest the ending of life if the cost of maintaining that life was simply too much to possibly be reduced by what little societal contribution they may have left. On the flip side, however, were it to be my mother/father/sister/cousin/best friend/etc in that position, I suspect I would argue that it is not permissible to end a life, no matter what, and I would do everything possible to keep them alive. The utilitarian view of worth according to contribution is a common one, but more easily trumped by the humanist view of worth according to people-hood, often described by Christians as “human dignity.”

Because this is such a touchy question, I have difficulty making sweeping and broad statements about this decision. It would be better determined on a case-by-case basis. Actively killing someone—even if they want to die—rings too much of murder and doesn’t sit well with me. Allowing them to die, however, provided they are aware of the situation and made comfortable, is different because there is no action being made to speed up the dying process. It then gives the dying person a chance to get his or her affairs in order and to milk the last drops out of life by spending it with people he or she loves—time which becomes more valuable the less of it there is.

To be completely honest, I would try to talk a friend or family member out of suicide no matter what age they were or what suffering they were experiencing. I’d miss them too much—and there are too many fun and wonderful moments to create before we die. Even people undergoing extreme suffering still find time to enjoy things in life. If they don’t, they lose the will to live and will probably die of their own accord. There are extreme circumstances in which it may be permissible to end a life, but I am a person much too attached to other people to comfortably say, “yes, kill that person.” I would personally rather have more time to spend with that person. Even if it means watching them die, I would like to help him or her enjoy the last of his or her life as comfortably as possible and try to “greet death as an old friend,” to steal a phrase from Harry Potter.

 

Bonus

Definitely cyberpunk. It’s really cool to see how authors like William Gibson or Neal Stephenson imagine the future of humanity will be, especially with all the virtual reality and cybernetic advancements. It’s amazing to think about what humans can do, given the right tools and resources. At the same time, though, it’s not the bubbly future of the 50s and reminds us that mankind can be monstrous in certain ways. The dark side of cyberpunk makes you question the definition of humanity—where does man stop being man and start becoming animal or machine? Is there a difference between the two? Where does machine stop being machine and start being man? Does it? Can it? Cyberpunk is inherently futuristic but goes hand-in-hand with dystopia, which is where I fear the world is headed right now.
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."

  • Slow Learner

    What atheist would describe the phrase “human dignity” as a Christian one?

    The discussion of polyamory was a little confused, but could plausibly have been written by an atheist. The answer about euthanasia, however, read as though it had been written by a Christian doing a second draft where they edit out all the references to God, the Bible, souls etc.

    • Yvain

      “What atheist would describe the phrase “human dignity” as a Christian one?”

      *tentatively raises hand*

      Actually I and several other atheists I know have had whole conversations about Christian overuse of “human dignity”. It’s not that we’re against human dignity per se, just that the Christian arguments we’ve read appear to, from our perspective, drop it kind of at random in places that don’t seem to fit. If I were trying to parody or insult Christian argument at a level slightly above “WE HAVE TO BAN GAY MARRIAGE BECAUSE THE BIBLE SAID SO”, I would try “WE HAVE TO BAN GAY MARRIAGE BECAUSE NOT DOING SO WOULD BE AN OFFENSE TO THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON”

      If this entry is by a Christian, I give them + 1 Turing Test point for noticing.

      • Slow Learner

        Ok, well I’ve learned something; that wasn’t a buzzphrase I’d picked up coming from the Christian side of the fence.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Going with Christian on this one, and the arguments are not particularly strong. I tend to agree with Slow Learner that they sound like bog-standard apologetics simply flipped around.

  • Mariana Baca

    Although I liked the entry, it was very obviously Christian in my mind. Especially the cyberpunk discussion. Although a lot of atheists I know love cyberpunk, most don’t think the world is headed towards dystopia.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Really? Bush, Iraq, Obama, Snowden, the incredible loss of anything resembling privacy rights? In what way isn’t the world headed for a dystopia?

      • Mariana Baca

        whether the world* is headed for dystopia or not, I don’t think most atheists I talk to seem to take such a pessimistic view of the future, even if they might take a pessimistic view of current events. Only wrt global warming have I heard truly pessimistic outcomes. But in general a lot of the ones I hang out with tend to take the humanity will slowly evolve a la star trek to a better future.

        *frankly, that is a US-centric view of the world, plus, too much of digression for this comment box! :)

        • Randy Gritter

          Obama once said progress is inevitable. I think most atheists are there. It kind of makes you wonder how much of an effort you should make if it is going to happen anyway. It also makes one assume that just because something is a growing trend that it must be progress. GK Chesterton always makes the distinction between what is fashionable and what is truly good.

  • Brendan Hodge

    Ack! The magical oxytocin strikes again. I flattered myself it sounded fake in the Christian round, but I have to admit it sounds faker here. Sigh…

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Chemistry is magic to you?

  • jscalvano

    My problem is that I can’t imagine a Christian, at least one participating in this test, doing this bad of a job of imitation; whereas, there is nothing about being Atheist that precludes holding these views.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I think getting notice about the end of my current contract has me wanting to have coffee with people.

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

    A couple things stuck out as tells. I’m pretty sure the oxytocin argument is one I’ve only ever heard religious believers use, and the “…often described by Christians as “human dignity”” doesn’t sound like something I’ve ever heard an atheist say. Likely Christian.

  • Johnny Utah

    My friend is on the show (married and dating) and all she can talk about now is polygamy and although we are all happy that she is happy there is just this sense that something bad is eventually going to happen. MAybe i just feel this way because I knew a couple like this and the guy was just a huge manipulator. It was obvious she loved him and would do anything to please him. Just as obvious was he liked having her around but he had his eye on every other women who walked by. The wife eventually divorced him but it was just painful to watch her go through it all. IT reminded me of the character Dickie Greenleaf in the film Talented Mr. Ripley.

  • Jakeithus

    My policy is typically where it looks like the author hasn’t thought through the arguments as well as I think they should, to treat it as authentic. I will go with likely atheist in this case.

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