Forgetting History

From Crisis Magazine (though I’m not Catholic, I enjoy many of their articles and this one in particular):

“The main reason why that book could not now be published is that there is no one who could write it and no one who would read it.”

It’s sad what has happened in less than a century; that people graduate college with reading levels beneath eighth graders from the 1910’s and that a religious culture has transformed into a radically secular one. If it took a thoroughly religious and historically literate culture to give us a Constitution, limited government, and religious freedom, we should pause to think about the trends away from those prerequisites and what the shift entails.

“We must remind ourselves that beneath any formal constitution―even beneath our Constitution, the most enduringly successful of such formal documents―lies an unwritten constitution much more difficult to define, but really more powerful: the body of institutions, customs, manners, conventions, and voluntary associations which may not even be mentioned in the formal constitution but which nevertheless form a fabric of social reality and sustain the formal constitution.” – Russel Kirk

The Incoherence of Pop Morality

The president and a number of ideological relatives of his have put forth a public service announcement on the topic of sexual assault. ABC reports:

“As far as we’ve come, the fact is that from sports leagues to pop culture to politics, our society still does not sufficiently value women,” Obama said as he unveiled a new campaign to raise awareness and prevent sexual assault on college and university campuses.

“We still don’t condemn sexual assault as loudly as we should,” he said. “We make excuses. We look the other way. The message that sends can have a chilling effect on our young women.”

This isn’t an attempt at awareness, or even a recommendation for some action. It is an outright condemnation of the public for what the president calls a lack of value for women. In his own words, the problem does not lie with the agents who commit some crime or morally evil act, but with everyone else.

His wording is important in other ways as well. Our society “still does not sufficiently value women”, meaning that we’ve come from a low point towards some goal and have not reached it. If I had to wager a guess, that low point is the pre-feminist 1950’s and the time prior to it. And yet, surely sexual assault as it takes place on college campuses today was not prevalent than as it is today. Forgoing a feminist definition of sexual assault – which in extreme cases, includes marriage itself – the problem seems to be a relatively recent development.

The fact that this issue is with “sports leagues” and “pop culture” and “politics” means that it certainly isn’t a conservative War on Women, since pop culture in particular is not part of conservative dominion, in any sense of the word. And in this portion of his statement, he seems to be correct. Pop culture, in promoting the bodies of women over their feminine qualities, does little to help women.

Even still, the blame is said to rest squarely on the public, not the perpetrators. But is that justifiable? And beyond that, is it justifiable to say that no victim ever shares any responsibility for their status? Is it truly justified to say that a married woman who is usually home with her family is equally responsible, should she be assaulted, as a woman who routinely drinks at a bar and leaves with men she has never met? Clearly not. Clearly, fairness in this sense is not justice.

There is even further confusion. It seems that the term “sexual assault” means little more than acts which are not done in mutual consent. Acts themselves don’t seem to matter, nor when they occur. So long as they are done with mutual consent, they are acceptable. This leads to attempts to codify consent, such as a bill in California that taken seriously would mean that married couples are involved in sexual assault. When consent becomes the only moral boundary, it simply isn’t strong enough to stand on its own.

This probably won't stop a horde.

This probably won’t stop a horde.

This new morality is based entirely on consent and unenforceable, absurd laws revolving around it. When conservatively minded people object to this as, well, unenforceable and absurd, they are condemned for engaging in a War on Women. Mean old conservatives don’t want to stand on the wall full of holes arbitrarily placed in the middle of barbarism, so they must be barbarians themselves, so the thinking goes.

A true conservative position on the matter is that walls indeed must be placed, but they must have some sense to them. They must be firmly grounded in a coherent ethical framework instead of abject relativism. They must be guarded instead of abandoned at will when the political tides change. They must be built solidly and intelligently, instead of thrown together when it becomes obvious that something must be done. These are the sorts of walls I would be willing to stand and guard, and indeed the walls that I desire to see rebuilt. To say that those who are similarly minded are traitors and haters of women because we would rather not settle for less is absurd and emotional nonsense.

Moralism and the Gospel

Albert Mohler posted an article about moralism and its clash with the Gospel:

One of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this — the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.

My own response is that I think this is close to the truth, but there is some clarification missing that makes it seem as though it is focused on the wrong problem.

A simple way to state it is, to slightly turn a phrase: “Christianity is not mere moral teaching, but it is not less than moral teaching”. Moral living is a really big deal in Scripture. John 3:36 teaches that God’s wrath does not rest on sin alone, but on sinners. Over a dozen times in the psalms, we are told something similar.

We tend to completely separate “sin” and “sinner” today, but that seems like a false separation. Our actions and our character and motivations tend to be intertwined, not distinct. At the same time, while it is true that God loves everyone in the sense that we are all created in His Image, He does not love people who are in rebellion for their rebellion in the same way that He -does- love those who are obedient for their obedience. That is a type of love He does not and cannot spread out to everyone, because it is a response.

I agree with the general theme, that Christianity is not mere morality. But I think Christianity -is- at least morality. What I observe today is a very libertarian approach to morality in Christians. The emphasis is on “well, it’s okay if you are doing some sinful behavior, because it’s none of my business”. But the Gospel compels us to confront sin in the world; order, discipline, and love compel us to confront sin in the church.

Perhaps the best approach is to see morality as an intrinsic property of Christianity, not as something to separate from it. Though even still, I think Christians are quite right in pursuing the true, virtuous, and beautiful even in an anti-Christian world since sin and destruction are closely tied, and Christians are called to be lights to the world, not observers.

Rise of Civilization

No, not the actual rise of civilization. It’s the name of a piece of software that has taken nearly all of my free time. I’ve worked off and on various programming projects for nearly ten years and would love to supplement my income someday with them. This particular project is a game; a city-builder to be exact.

The purpose of Rise of Civilization is, unsurprisingly, to build up a civilization. This will involve resource management and choosing a path of development. By implication, this game will have a number of options for the player to choose for technology and aesthetics. My aim is to have a different experience during each play-through, difficult as that is going to be. In order to facilitate it, I’ll be converting a lot of the hard-coded information in the game (from buildings to plants to resources) to XML file-driven data. That’s down the road, though. Up first is actually getting a working game!

The images below are a progression from February 20th through today (March 27th). Not bad for five weeks, considering how busy I have been with other commitments.

Does Human Worth Depend on Quality of Life

Thanks to the curious way that Facebook decides which stories to show its members, I was privy to a conversation about abortion, quality of life, and human worth I would normally never see because the people involved have no relation to me. The conversation is… educational. Educational in the sense that from it we can learn what not to do in a debate about these topics and what views work better than others. It also reveals a trend regarding abortion: while abortion is becoming less and less politically and socially popular, its advocates are falling on emotional appeals instead of a solid framework of human worth.

The thread began with some information about a couple whose child was born with a severe birth defect. The brief conversation progressed as follows, with some moderate editing on my part to remove names and fix spelling and grammar:

Person A:If the parents knew of this condition early in the pregnancy, why did she carry to full term?

Person B:Not everyone is for abortion.

Person A:My question isn’t one of ‘is abortion right or wrong?’ or ‘for or against’? Morality aside, it is about quality of life.

Person C:Sadly largely because it is far less cognitively taxing to say something simple like “I am against abortion” than to carefully consider the actual consequences of such hard line black/white right/wrong stances. It’s unpleasant but we do need to start considering these things. Parents who keep a child who will know nothing but pain and a short pitiless life are really quite despicable. People shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind simple right/wrong binary logic when another life is involved. I get upset whenever someone says in a simple way “I am pro-life” or “I am pro-choice” when we should all be pro-humanity.

The Non-Moral Immoral Moral Question

“A” seems to be a bit confused. He claims that the question “why did the mother carry the child to term [knowing the child had a severe birth defect]” is not a moral question and has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of abortion. Yet it seems obvious that his question entails abortion. By what other means would a mother not carry her child to term sans unfortunate natural causes? Unfortunately for “A”, the question of whether abortion is moral or not is actually the foundation of his entire claim, which is that it is, at least in this particular case.

The particular case is about quality of life, and the person arguing it supposes that the quality of a human life influences whether or not that life should be preserved or in this case whether or not the life should be terminated.

This returns us to the question of abortion. If a fetus is a human being and a child is a human being, advocating for the death of a fetus with a birth defect is no different in quality from advocating the death of a child with a birth defect. Sounds horrific, doesn’t it? The unpleasantness of that thought aside, it reveals the implication of viewing a fetus and a child as equally human. This brings the debate back to where it belongs: does the state of being unborn negate the biological and philosophical realities that make someone human?

No matter what someone answers this question with, it will have direct implications with regards to the “quality of life” argument above; an argument that requires an answer to that question as a premise.

No, YOU’RE the bad guy!

“C” makes three separate arguments. The first is a meandering appeal to relativity which says that this question cannot possibly be one with definite answers. This eliminates a rule-and-exception approach and replaces it with a case-by-case approach, something that seems a little foreign to the idea of human worth.

The second and most subtle of the three arguments is really not so much an argument but an accusation. Assuming that (1) “abortion is not the taking of an innocent life” and (2) “the quality of life matters more than the fact of being alive” as unspoken premises, “C” makes the claim that parents who carry their unborn children to term knowing they may have birth defects is “quite despicable”. However, if either (1) or (2) is a false premise, such parents are behaving as ethically as possible. Despite all of his claims for relativity, C demonstrates that it would require a static and unyielding adherence to his unspoken premises to be anything but ethical and moral, let alone despicable.

The third part of “C’s” claim is that we should all be “pro-humanity”, not “pro-life” or “pro-choice”. Perhaps I’m not imaginative enough, but “pro-life” and “pro-humanity” seem to be synonymous. Perhaps “C” also values the dead as much as the living; we cannot say. And yet given his previous statements, it is clear that he is not “pro-humanity” as such, but more “pro-healthy-humanity-as-defined-by-myself”. That is, when an unborn child does not meet the standard he declares for health, the parents of said unborn child are “quite despicable” if they do anything but terminate that child’s life.

The confusion with both “A” and “C” comes from conflating the value of human life with the quality of human life. If the quality of life affects its value, then those who are in poverty are worth less than those who are affluent. Seems strange for such Progressively-Minded™ folks to say such a thing, but it is a natural implication. I’ll even go so far as to define it as a syllogism!

  1. The quality of human life determines whether or not that life should be preserved.
  2. An unborn child who has a severe birth defect has a low quality of life.
  3. Therefore, an unborn child with a severe birth defect should not have his life preserved.

Of course, you could substitute any measure for quality of life for premise (2) and end up with the same conclusion. Someone who disagrees would have to tell us why an unborn child is not human (so as to control the scope of premise (1) and (2)), but then we are back on the classic abortion debate mentioned above and we are not talking about the quality of human life anymore.

Quality vs Worth

The Christian view is trivially simple in comparison yet more in line with our experience. All human life is priceless in human measurements. Quality of life has no effect whatsoever upon the value of life and often the quality of life in economic, medical, or social terms has no impact on the quality of life from the perspective of joy and wonder. I know several people who have moderate or severe health problems, but they all consistently seem to appreciate life more than I do. In the Christian view, it is easy to determine how valuable their lives are – they are no more or less valuable than my own and I have no right whatsoever to deprive them of their lives.

Quality should be seen as an extrinsic property of human life while value should be seen as intrinsic. The former can change (and often does); the latter is constant.