Monday Miscellany, 6/19/23

Monday Miscellany, 6/19/23 June 19, 2023

Not affirming your kid’s gender choice as child abuse, polarization despite agreement, and prospects for the ordination of avatars.

Defining Not “Affirming” Your Kid’s Gender Choice as Child Abuse

California is considering a law that would define “not affirming your child’s [trans-] gender” as a form of child abuse.  AB 957, passed by the Assembly and now before the Senate, would require family courts evaluating the child’s “health, safety, and welfare” to “include a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity.”

This would specifically apply in custody disputes, with one divorcing parent who disapproves of a child’s “transitioning” to some other gender being denied custody if the other parent approves.  California already refuses to allow couples who are skeptical of transgenderism to be foster parents.  California also has passed a law allowing “trans-tourism,” in which children can come to the state for “gender-affirming care” without the approval of their parents.

Critics say that the measure would be tantamount to defining disapproval of transgenderism as child abuse.  From National Review, in an editorial condemning the bill entitled California Is Losing Its Mind:

In interpreting the refusal to affirm a gender identity as an affront to a child’s “health, safety and welfare,” the bill effectively defines non-affirmation as abuse, creating a precedent for much broader applications. If a parent can lose custody rights after a divorce for not affirming his or her child, what’s to stop the state from removing children from happily married or even single parents?

The editors say this is already happening, citing a case in which a child was taken away from her non-affirming mother on the grounds of “emotional abuse.”

This is ironic, since subjecting children with gender dysphoria–a condition that often goes away–to mutilative surgery and sterilization actually is child abuse.

UPDATE:  Actually, it appears that the measure, if passed, would indeed allow for charges of child abuse if parents do not approve of their children’s “transition.”  The earlier version just applied to child custody cases, but an amendment changed the entire Family Code.  From the estimable Peachy Keenan in the Federalist:

“Originally, AB 957 required courts to consider whether a child’s parents were ‘gender-affirming’ in custody cases. Wiener’s amendment completely rewrites California’s standard of childcare. AB 957 post-amendment ‘would include a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity as part of the health, safety, and welfare of the child,’ altering the definition and application of the entire California Family Code. California courts would be given complete authority under Section 3011 of California’s Family Code to remove a child from his or her parents’ home if parents disapprove of LGBTQ+ ideology,” a Daily Signal report explains.

Agreeing to Disagree

Americans are highly polarized, and yet a study has found that 90% of those on both the left and the right share the same basic values.  But two-thirds think the other side does not hold to those values.

According to an AP story on the research, sponsored by the nonprofit group Starts With Us, people were asked to rate the importance of six values:  personal responsibility, fair enforcement of the law, representative government, government accountability, compassion and respect across differences, and learning from the past.

In each case, about 90% of both Democrats and Republicans rated these values as very or extremely important.  When asked if members of the opposing party thought those values were very or extremely important, however, about two-thirds of respondents said no.

“While most Americans agree on the core principles underlying American democracy,” concludes journalist David Klepper, “they no longer recognize that the other side also holds those values.”  That is to say, our real problem is not so much differences in belief but the fact that Americans don’t trust each other.  “The findings reflect a phenomenon known as ‘affective polarization,’ in which disagreements are based on animosity and a lack of trust instead of an actual debate over values or policy.”

But I would argue that our animosity is based on differences in policy, if not in values.  Believing in “fairness,” “compassion,” and the like, are universal.  Hardly anyone says “I don’t think we should be fair,” or, “I don’t believe in compassion.”  Such values are built into human nature.  They are what we mean by “natural law.”  (See C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man for the universality of the basic moral axioms.)

The differences in belief involve how we apply these values and the means by which we think these values are achieved.  Advocates of paying reparations for black people because their ancestors were enslaved appeal to justice–that is, to fairness–whereas opponents of reparations say that making people who never owned slaves pay money to people who never were slaves is profoundly unfair.   Is it “compassion” to allow gender dysphoric children to have surgery and take drugs so that they can simulate being of another sex, or that an unspeakable cruelty, a violation of compassion?  We can all agree that it is important to learn from the past, but what do we expect the past to teach us?  Do we learn not to be so primitive, or is there wisdom from the past?

There are a host of other assumptions and influences at work–most profoundly, one’s world view–that shapes our beliefs about how to achieve what we consider to be good.  But agreeing that good things are good is simply part of being human.

Do You Believe in the Ordination of Avatars?

Germany’s biennial convention of Protestant churches featured a church service almost entirely generated by ChatGPT, presided over by avatars on a screen.  From the AP story on the subject:

The artificial intelligence chatbot asked the believers in the fully packed St. Paul’s church in the Bavarian town of Fuerth to rise from the pews and praise the Lord.

The ChatGPT chatbot, personified by an avatar of a bearded Black man on a huge screen above the altar, then began preaching to the more than 300 people who had shown up on Friday morning for an experimental Lutheran church service almost entirely generated by AI.

“Dear friends, it is an honor for me to stand here and preach to you as the first artificial intelligence at this year’s convention of Protestants in Germany,” the avatar said with an expressionless face and monotonous voice.

The 40-minute service — including the sermon, prayers and music — was created by ChatGPT and Jonas Simmerlein, a theologian and philosopher from the University of Vienna.

“I conceived this service — but actually I rather accompanied it, because I would say about 98% comes from the machine,” the 29-year-old scholar told The Associated Press.

[Keep reading. . .]

We learn that “The entire service was ‘led’ by four different avatars on the screen, two young women, and two young men.”

Surely there is less here than meets the eye.  The Artificial Intelligence simply scoured the web to put together the kind of sermon and the kind of service that the liberal German Lutherans of the state church usually have.

I’m intrigued, though, by the use of avatars as pastors.  The news story quoted those who attended as saying the avatars lacked the emotion of  a human preacher.  But I wonder how far this might go.  Could avatars be designed, along with mechanical features, to administer the sacraments as well as preach?

Would those pastoral acts be valid?  We’ve debated the ordination of women, with the German state church coming down in favor, to the point of ChatGPT being careful to balance the number of male and female avatars.  Now will we have to debate the ordination of computer animations?


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