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[Turing 2013] Christian Entry #9

[Turing 2013] Christian Entry #9 July 23, 2013

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.

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