[Turing 2013] Christian Entry #2

[Turing 2013] Christian Entry #2 July 16, 2013

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



Church marriage (a term I prefer because marriage is not generally held to be a Sacrament in the Anglican Communion) is a marriage between a man and a woman. The identity of the spouses is still disputed within our society, and I am personally torn over whether faithful same-sex couples should be able to marry within the church; however the number of spouses being two is not in dispute. I have seen no arguments for the Church recognising polygamy, and personally would see it as inconsistent with the purpose of a Christian marriage: that a couple, loving one another and loving God, enter into a union together, in order to better serve God, better love one another, and better do God’s work in the world – including, when they have children, the bringing up of their children in the faith. There is a direct reciprocality to marriage which would be broken by bringing in additional spouses, making the union unbalanced and imperfect.

What is more, if the marriage of two men is not appropriate within the church, why should adding a woman to the group suddenly change things? If the Church will not marry Bob and Tom, how is marrying Bob to Tom and Anna okay?

From a civil perspective, I would oppose polygamy on the practical grounds that even as people continue to find marriage to one other person difficult (view the divorce rate), relationships with multiple partners are less stable than monogamous ones – logically, the more moving parts in a relationship the more likely things are to break. And look how rancorous divorces through the civil courts can be with only two spouses – how much worse with many? Adultery is not a crime, at least in this country, and if a married couple wish to have carnal relations with other consenting adults that is their right, albeit I consider it very likely to damage their relationship.

Finally on this point, many have (and do) questioned and opposed the re-definition of civil marriage to include same-sex couples. While I sympathise with their perspective, at least same sex marriage retains the fundamental characteristic of being a bond between two people. Just as the dynamic of a group of friends changes as more friends arrive, so the dynamic of a romantic relationship changes if more people are involved. The dynamic of a man, a woman and maybe children is time-honoured and proven. The dynamic of one man and children or one woman and children is unfortunately common, but nobody claims it as an ideal. The dynamic of two men or two women and maybe children is one that is under test at the moment. Multiple adults plus maybe-children of different combinations of the two adults is an unknown, and at the bare minimum we should not enshrine it into civil law before we know how it is supposed to work.

As I hope has become clear, my argument here is based on both Christian and secular grounds, and should thus be at least partially persuasive to all.



It is permissible to end a life to save others, including oneself. This exception does not generally apply in the case of euthanasia.

It is obligatory to end a life to save others, but not to save oneself – you may choose to sacrifice yourself for a higher goal, but you can’t choose for other people.

Neither of these conditions apply very frequently in cases of euthanasia – not very many terminal patients are likely serial-killers, after all, nor would many of them stop a runaway tram if pushed in front of it.
Looking at the question from the other end, I consider it a requirement that anyone consent to medical treatment before they undergo it, except if they are not conscious to be asked and treatment is urgently required. As such it must be acceptable to allow people to refuse treatment that might, or will, prolong life; there is no consistent line to draw between the two, and the first is a vital part of medical ethics.

I would consider it morally acceptable to provide reasonable doses of painkillers to someone who has refused other treatment, but not to give any treatment which will kill them. Palliative care is the ideal – supporting someone, making the end of their life as pleasant as possible, without cutting it short. I also consider it right that this, as “Assisted Suicide”, this carries a legal penalty. It is the responsibility of a civil society to look after its weakest members, and it is our duty as Christians to look after the least of these, before and around and alongside the efforts of society as a whole. The terminally ill and those afflicted by degenerative conditions are among “the least of these”, and they deserve our care, not being brushed aside like an ailing pet.

In all seriousness, I am uncomfortable with the ease with which we put down sick pets, and would like to see more shelters looking after pets in that position, rather than discarding them as inconvenient; we take on a commitment of giving an animal a home, and care, and affection, and food, and it ill behoves us to renege on this just because they are unwell in a way we can’t cure. The very idea of treating people like pets in this regard is horrifying, when we should be treating our pets more like people.

And the idea that in this fallen world we can instate safeguards such that no-one will be “euthanised” who wants to live but “doesn’t want to be a burden”, is ridiculous. We stopped executing criminals because we were killing innocents, we shouldn’t start killing the sick and elderly because we’re only fairly sure all of those being killed really want to die.


Bonus Question

Using Orson Scott Card’s four story factors, I think that the most appropriate milieu is a fairly ordinary modern day setting – it is very tempting in writing a “religious” epic to set it in a fantastical milieu with appearances from angels and so on, but that undervalues the quieter virtues of faith which I see as more important to most of us in our daily lives.

As for the idea, the core idea is that the discipline and practice of their faith helps people with their struggles by bringing them closer to the mind of God. It is easy to grow too didactic in this regard, as some people find Narnia to be – though this is of course fantastical also and thus not my ideal.
Character should be fairly realistic and close-in – first-person is good, to actually see the struggles of our protagonist, but a close third-person perspective might be even better; and the aim should be to show how people are imperfect, but can still rise to the challenges in their path and love their neighbours. The particular flaw matters less than that they are flawed, though sins of which we are almost all guilty are preferable.

Events – a variety of event-series can work. Coming of age stories, crime stories, romances – when written appropriately – can all play their part, and I think this is why I prefer Scott Card’s structure to Christian H’s – I see the milieu, the idea and the characters as fairly key, but the events as less important.
I see Left Behind as the exact inverse of my ideal – it is a sort of reflection of Protestantism’s deepest id, dogmatic, destructive and repulsive, rather than showing a better way by example and thus drawing people towards you.


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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  • For the sake of non-Anglican readers, I’d like to make a clarification: whether or not marriage is a sacrament in the churches of the Anglican Communion is considered discretional by some Anglican clergy and/or parishes (which means something much like “prudential” in Catholic doctrine), though many or most Anglicans (and most Anglican theologians and liturgists) don’t consider it a sacrament in a highly specific sense. This is because it is not officially considered “a Sacrament ordained by our Lord Christ in the Gospel,” but it is among the rites “commonly called Sacraments but not to be counted Sacraments of the Gospel.” In general, marriage is considered to be sacramental, even when its not considered a sacrament, because it participates in and acknowledges the sacramentality of the universe. So the bit about “church marriage” at the beginning might be a bit misleading to non-Anglicans. I’ve never heard an Anglican use the phrase “church marriage,” but then again I’ve never heard an Anglican use the phrase “sacramental marriage,” either; maybe it’s just because I don’t attend a church that worries much about marriage.

    I’m not making any claims about whether this entry is faux or not, but I wanted to be sure that the commentariat heard a better explanation of marriage’s sacramentality than the one in this entry, which I presume was truncated due to word the limit?

    • TheodoreSeeber

      That leads to an interesting discussion in and of itself; but one that leads me back to King Henry VIII and his reason for wanting to split away from Rome in the first place. I take it standard Anglican has *very* different interpretations of Matthew 19 and John 2, from the Orthodox Ultramontaine Catholic interpretation?

      • I couldn’t tell you. First, it is hard to figure out what a standard Anglican take on something would be since there is so much diversity in Anglicanism. My knowledge of Anglicans as practitioners is limited to a few congregations. Second, I have no idea what the Orthodox Ultramontaine Catholic interpretation is, or even what “Orthodox Ultramontaine” means.

        • TheodoreSeeber


          In this case, it means we see the Sacrament of Marriage instituted by Christ directly in those two chapters from two different Gospels.

        • Martha O’Keeffe

          From memories of my primary school history lessons:

          “Ultramontane” versus “Gallicanism”: two schools of thought in 19th century Catholicism about the role/authority of the Pope and the bishops (often represented as in opposition). Broadly speaking, “Ultramontane” gave a high value to the pope as ultimate and final authority in the Church (you could see the declaration of Papal Infallibility at the First Vatican Council as the culmination of this) versus the idea of ‘collegiality’ and even a certain degree of independence of the bishops of local churches, to the point almost of ‘national churches’, that is, the bishops of (say) Ireland or France or America or wherever could make decisions on doctrine allowing for local circumstances and be the arbiters rather than referring it to Rome.

          Irish Catholicism had both strains early on (due to the influence of Continental thought on Irish priests who were educated and ordained in France, Belgium, Spain and Italy because of the Penal Laws which forbade clerical education in Ireland) but Ultramontanism won out due to a complex mix of politics (basically, a deal was cut with the British government of the day to establish and fund an Irish seminary with the quid pro quo being that the revolutionary sentiments associated with the Continental influence were quashed and Irish clergy were trained to respect the government as ‘render unto Caesar), the social upheaval caused by the Famine and its aftermaths engendering a desire for stability and to be recognised as ‘respectable’ and deserving fellow-citizens by the British, which meant adopting ‘Victorian values’ of settling down and stopping having rebellions and revolutions against British rule, and the personal influence of Cardinal Cullen, archbishop of Dublin.

          So ultramontane Catholicism would take its cue from the Pope on what are exceptions, what is permissible, and the application of the Magisterium (versus the populist movement towards invoking the sensus fidelium) and orthodox Catholicism would hew to the traditional definitions of what do and do not constitute sacraments – in other words, it doesn’t matter a rap if 99.9% of Americans who self-identify as Catholics think Bob and Sam should be permitted a church wedding in St. Sally of the Twinkly Lights parish, it ain’t gonna happen if Pope Jim-Bob don’t say it can (and Pope Jim-Bob won’t say so, unless he’s Anti-Pope Jim-Bob).

          • Hold the phone. You have to do what the Pope says unless you don’t like what the Pope says, in which case he’s not really the Pope and you can ignore him? Or am I badly misunderstanding/taking a joke too literally? Because I had thought Catholicism would come up with something more robust than that.

    • Question: is there a connection between your user name and the author (?) referenced in the above line:

      “I think this is why I prefer Scott Card’s structure to Christian H’s”

      • The connection is the obvious one: it is me. (I thought all of the regulars here knew that? It seems not.)

  • This read as mostly author asserting their view without argument, even admitting a lack of awareness of counter-arguments at one point. On the other hand, it doesn’t scream straw man, if written by an atheist it’s a very subtle Poe. I vote very likely Christian.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I agree. If it wasn’t for the Anglican comment, it would be textbook Catholic. As it is, I’d call it a high anglican.

      • Slow Learner

        Can we take a snapshot of the two of you agreeing? I don’t think that happens very often…

      • InkDuBlog

        I didn’t want to be first to comment (I saw this post shortly after it went up) but I was going to write “I smell a high Anglican.” It’s pretty textbook Anglican (or slightly divergent Catholic). Also, note the British spellings.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          I missed the British Spelling!

      • Martha O’Keeffe

        Oooh, I disagree there, Theodore. Not very Catholic sounding to me (although that may be because I’m Irish and I don’t have experience of what American Catholicism sounds like). I agree it did sound Anglican (though not High Anglican); a fine sample of what’s called “Anglican fudge” (and now I’ve made disparaging remarks about Anglicans, I should apologise).
        For what it’s worth, I have a Church of Ireland clergyman brother-in-law, so I have some tiny (very tiny) exposure to a liberal(ish) Anglican strain of clerical thought (though he’s more liturgically high himself and it’s his former and current bishops who are more liberal).

        • TheodoreSeeber

          It is likely because I’m from Oregon, where I heard many a priest make this exact same argument against Euthanasia and for Hospice, several times.

          The one good thing about being in a state that allows Euthanasia- the Archdiocese of Portland is a great place to die. We have an excellent faith based hospice program here.

          • Martha O’Keeffe

            Ah, it’s possibly because for me the question of palliative care shouldn’t be raised in the same context as euthanasia. Really, are we forcing the choice between “you can die in agony or you can choose when and at what state of mental competence you die”? Ridiculous! Proper pain management and tending to the last days of the terminally ill should not be a question of “You might get it if you’re lucky but it’s better to support the ‘Top Yourself Quickly Bill’ if you don’t want to go out screaming in pain”.

            I felt that the premises which kicked off the answer on euthanasia were not fully worked-out; no mention of self-defence and war/police, for instance, as where it is permissible to take a life. Seguing straight into “Euthanasia patients usually aren’t serial killers” seemed a misstep; of course no-one is arguing “It’s okay to kill someone if they are Really Bad” (and if you are a Christian who lets yourself appear to be arguing that, you need to invoke the intercession of St. Dismas, the Good Thief).

        • TheodoreSeeber

          See alternative answer above- I missed the British Spelling!

  • alexander stanislaw

    I thought it sounded sincere if not very convincing.

    Also, I hope that everyone votes before reading the comments.

  • Anonymous

    If it weren’t for the one Anglican comment, I would believe that this was written by Leah, herself.

    • What? Really? 1. Leah would offer a much better argument that this one. 2. I don’t see Leah writing that answer to the Bonus Question. She once referred to her fan-fiction characters as plot-actor-outers, which does not seem to me to be something a person who thinks that milieu and character are that much more important than events would say. Also, no fantasy? Not Leah at all.

      • Anonymous

        It hedged on same sex marriage, focused on loving each other, making each other better, and serving God together aspects (the thing Leah has focused on in her posts about same sex marriage).

        The bit about failure modes and the tested nature of the traditional family were a bit weak, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see her include it. I don’t think she’s yet figured out good secular reasons to prohibit polygamy (or same sex marriage), and since this came up in Response #1 as well, maybe it’s just more “out there” than I previously thought.

        The euthanasia response certainly doesn’t contradict anything that she’s talked about in the past. I would imagine that she would use different examples if she was just writing a regular post; if she was trying to refrain from obviously revealing her identity by repeating her verbage, I could see something like this coming out.

        I’ll freely admit that my literature intuition is by far my weakest category here. I saw elements of her virtue ethics and simulated annealing perspective in this response. I agree that if she was just writing a regular post, it would be fantasy-laden… but similar to above, if she’s trying to conceal her identity just a little bit, I would believe that it could come from her.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      Oh no, Leah could marshall much better arguments about euthanasia and polygamy.

  • Slow Learner

    How often do Anglicans separate out civil marriage from sacramental/church marriage in this way? I’m aware that the Archbishop of Canterbury is against same-sex *civil* marriage, but I have no idea what general Anglican opinion is like.
    Edited to add: at least unlike the first answer this looks like the same person answered all the questions!

  • I’m leaning slightly towards atheist.

    There seemed to me a mismatch between the vocabulary and philosophical background displayed, and the sophistication of the arguments. I would expect an actual Christian with this background to either a) mount a much more effective campaign against the practical drawbacks of polyamory, b) admit to not really knowing the right answer, or c) use a whole lot more platonic form type language about the telos of marriage to tell us why it was a priori wrong, regardless of the practical consequences.

    The author kind of went in the middle, saying xhe wasn’t sure about gay marriage, but definitely not polyamory, because if no gay marriage then why would adding a woman to the mix help?

    …but I do not have a good Ideological Turing Test track record, so ymmv

    • Ha! You expect a human being to admit to not knowing the right answer? On an issue where the only people who disagree with them are in a small minority, and therefore ignorable?

      • something something Dunning-Kruger effect something… you’re probably right.

        I looked for a relevant xkcd, but this was the best I could find.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      I agree about the sophistication of the argument; if you’re going to argue about “we don’t know what the effects of polygamous marriage are like”, the obvious rebuttal there is “what about the non-Western cultures which practise it?” and look at those to see.

  • Mary E.

    I’m stuck on the phrase “Church marriage.” There’s something awkward-sounding about it. As a Catholic, I usually hear (and refer) to “marriage in the Church.” Perhaps someone from an Evangelical Protestant denomination would use the phrase “church marriage,” but that’s outside my frame of reference. Some other comments sound odd from a Christian perspective, such as “I have seen no arguments for the Church recognising polygamy, and personally would see it as inconsistent with the purpose of a Christian marriage.” Well, yes . . . that seems obvious. Too obvious– in fact, it sounds disingenuous, and perhaps on the cusp of being a straw-man argument.

    So, I went with “probably atheist,” although this was a tough one, and I could be wrong, particularly if these entries turn out to be written by a liberal-progressive Christian.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    This one was tougher to decide – I picked “likely Christian” because it mentions the Anglican Communion, which means that if it’s an atheist, they are very cunning and may take a bow for their cleverness.
    It’s too late now, but I find I’d like an extra choice on the “how convincing did you find this argument?” section: in between the ‘so bad it may be deliberate strawman’ and ‘okay but preaching to the converted’, one that goes ‘sincere but weak’. That is, not so bad that I think it’s bad on purpose to represent the most caricatured position of the opposite side, but genuine although poorly done and/or not as convincing as it could be.

  • ariofrio

    “While I sympathise with their perspective, at least same sex marriage retains the fundamental characteristic of being a bond between two people.” This hints at a misunderstanding of what marriage is in the Catholic Church. Leah has expressed similar understandings of marriage, but she has quickly acknowledged that she must be missing something if the Church is right (either that, or the Church is wrong (better rend my garments!)). I think that sentence hints atheist.

    • Cole J. Banning

      But the author isn’t Catholic, they’re Anglican, and Anglican thought isn’t nearly as clear on the subject. It strikes me as a reasonable enough position for a moderate (from my perspective, moderately conservative) Anglican to take.