Stuck in the Middle With You

One of my frequent commenters, Steve, has often lamented that conservative Christians have had to vote for right-wing candidates in order to advance their pro-life agenda. He'd like to see a Christian Left that embraced protecting the sanctity of life as a progressive ideal. I can't blame him. I'd like to someday see a candidate like Dorothy Day, St. Francis of Assissi, or Mother Teresa. I disagree with much of the Republican platform, but I may find myself increasingly resorting to voting for Republicans to fight the Culture of Death. That doesn't make me comfortable or confident. If only the Democrats can see their failure to connect with America this election as an opportunity to win back moral conservatives who the've marginalized and driven away. I won't hold my breath.

Rightward Shift May Squeeze Centrists
By Charles Babington and Juliet Eilperin

"Tuesday's Republican sweep of the South will reshape the next Senate, replacing moderate Democrats sometimes willing to cross party lines with ardent GOP conservatives who will press their leaders for a more right-leaning agenda, according to analysts."

Comments 14

  1. theomorph wrote:

    “the deaths of 1.6M innocent humans via abortion is never justifiable”

    Well, maybe, except there are lots of people who would dispute both the innocence and the humanity of fetuses, and objecting on the grounds that abortion is “never justifiable” comes with a built in assumption that it’s something that needs to be justified in the first place.

    I don’t care to get into an argument over what constitutes humanity, because I think humanity is a negotiable quality at every stage of life while the Catholic church thinks that humanity is nonnegotiable at every stage. There isn’t anywhere to go with that because I don’t recognize the authority of the Catholic church, nor do I agree with it.

    I think everybody should be free to oppose abortion, but everybody should also be free to practice it. If Catholics have a problem with abortion, then Catholics shouldn’t practice it. Leave the rest of us be. It’s God’s job to cleanse the world and your job to let God cleanse you.

    Legalizing abortion does not force anyone to practice it. Criminalizing abortion does force people not to practice it who otherwise want to, or it at least forces punishments on them for breaking someone else’s ethical code without harming that someone else.

    You can say your opposition to abortion is a defense of the undefended unborn, but then you have to explain both what makes a fetus defensible (which is disputable) and why you are obligated to defend it. If your explanation relies on the authority of the Church or divine decree, it carries no weight with people outside the Church or people who do not believe in God. My experience was that I opposed abortion as a Christian, but as soon as I left Christianity I could no longer rationalize that position because it was bound up with my sense of divine authority.

    I realize that there are atheists and non-Christians who oppose abortion, too, but their arguments always depend on an inexplicable sentimentality that is, in my opinion, perfectly decent, though not something that can be argued objectively.

    Posted 06 Nov 2004 at 3:43 am
  2. steve wrote:

    My main push here is not to change anyone’s mind but to fight dogmatic beliefs of any kind.

    Of course, you might argue that my affection for freedom is a dogmatic belief, and you might be correct.

    No, I wouldn’t argue that affection for freedom is necessarily a dogmatic belief. (It could easily been in there with I have an affection for ice cream and baseball.) However, I would strenuously argue that your opposition to “dogmatic beliefs of any kind” is a far more dogmatic belief… and a humorous one at that.

    Perhaps if we replaced “dogmatic” with “axiomatic” then it wouldn’t sound so… err… religious. But it wouldn’t change the fact that “dogmatic” beliefs are the foundation of any thoughtful world view. And thus, our various dogma/axiom/faith/-based views are at bottom all alike and differ only in content.

    Best regards

    Posted 06 Nov 2004 at 5:24 pm
  3. theomorph wrote:

    Ack! So here I am at work with a few minutes to spare, knowing there were some rather intense responses to one of my rather intense comments on a post below and thinking I could toss out a response or two, but lo and behold I find that comment page is blocked by the content filters at my workplace! (So much for misbehaving.) At any rate, maybe it’s better that I not get to comment more down there, since it’s a topic that was covered heavily a while back and, as somebody mentioned, the fur really flew. Seeing as none of us are likely to have changed our minds, I don’t see any point in rehashing. So maybe I’ll just step out of that one.

    Anyway… regarding this post…

    I am really curious about this whole “Culture of Death” versus “Culture of Life” thing. I assume that because of my positions on abortion (it ought to be “safe, legal, and rare”) and embryonic stem cell research (go for it!) that most conservative Christians would consider me a member of the “Culture of Death.”

    This puzzles me, because I am quite fond of life in most of its forms (snakes aren’t my favorites, nor SS officers or serial killers). So I have spent much time wondering why I don’t fit with the “Culture of Life” crowd. Then it struck me the other day that this “Culture of Life” is focused almost entirely* on the reproductive aspects of life. Rather than speculate, I just thought I’d throw that observation out and ask all of you legitimate, real-life conservative Christians why you think that is.

    *The one exception, euthanasia, seems not to be as big a deal. There is much more weeping and gnashing of teeth over abortion and embryos than over ill and elderly people who just want to die. Even the opposition to euthanasia I have heard is not so much along the lines of “we can’t let these people die” but, “we can’t let this turn into a slippery slope where the old and infirm are killed involuntarily.” And I would agree with that.

    Posted 05 Nov 2004 at 4:40 pm
  4. steve wrote:

    And John, you are absolutely preaching to choir… as it were. This war was debatable (as Jerry notes), but, in the end, was not justifiable (and was opposed in no uncertain terms by the Holy Father… btw, I’m not Catholic, I just respect the guy and usually agree with him).

    That figure of 100,000 is not well supported, however. This source gives a current range between ~14,000 and ~17,000–numbers far more in line with what I’ve seen/heard/read elsewhere. Not that this changes anything fundamentally. A single casualty (in an unjust war) is 1 too many for me. But that 100,000 number is getting thrown around quite a bit and does seem to needlessly overstate the position–which in turn risks making a righteous case weaker.

    Best regards

    Posted 06 Nov 2004 at 3:42 am
  5. John wrote:

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record player:

    There are at least a hundred thousand Iraqi corpses that silently contest the notion that Republicans advance a culture of life.

    Posted 05 Nov 2004 at 11:11 pm
  6. theomorph wrote:


    Well, let me just go down the list of issues already raised, and the ones you add. Call it my “Culture of Life/Death” scorecard.

    abortion: A procedure I wouldn’t want to watch, but then the same is true of most things that happen in an operating room. I think it’s a pathetic excuse for birth control simply for economic reasons, but an age old human practice that ought not be criminalized because people should be free to control their reproduction, even if that means abortion.

    embryonic stem cell research: A fascinating line of research and experimentation that I have no ethical problems with whatsoever. It should be pursued wherever and whenever possible. If it doesn’t pan out, I’d rather know that we tried than not.

    capital punishment: Not a deterrent but I honestly think there are some people for whom this is the only solution we, as a society, have. Aside from paying to keep them incarcerated for the rest of their lives.

    war: A human tradition, always a tragedy, sometimes a necessity, but a solution that should be avoided if possible. I do not believe we will ever be free from war.

    working conditions: They should always be humane; pay should always be reasonable, whatever that means.

    euthanasia: If people want to die, I don’t see a reason to stop them. However, no one should make that decision for anyone else. Make a healthcare declaration or “living will” if you’re worried.

    A fundamental part of my view of humanity is that nobody comes with a “right to life” or a right to anything. Rights are given or fought for but they are not intrinsic to existence. I have a desire to live but not a right. I will defend my own life, and others are free to defend my life, but one must create a different rationale to say that others are obliged to defend my life. (Yes, I think such a rationale can be argued.) This is perhaps unfortunate but I think it’s accurate. Life is precarious. We who are ensconced safely in the modern world forget that too easily.

    Posted 06 Nov 2004 at 3:05 am
  7. theomorph wrote:


    My “ought” doesn’t come from anywhere but my own opinion. Remove the “ought” and replace it with “in my opinion, should”:

    “practice that, in my opinion, should not be criminalized because people should be free to control their reproduction”

    As for how that connects with “nobody comes with…a right to anything,” recall the other phrase “rights are given.”

    In the case of abortion, I prefer to give the right to the adults and not to the fetus. That view doesn’t come with any requirement that anyone agree with it precisely because it comes from nowhere but my own opinion and argument.

    However, the only arguments I ever hear against abortion from “pro-life” people are called down from on high as religious dogmas, and those, in their minds, do require agreement because they are considered authoritative in themselves.

    My main push here is not to change anyone’s mind but to fight dogmatic beliefs of any kind.

    Of course, you might argue that my affection for freedom is a dogmatic belief, and you might be correct. But I think about “freedom” all the time and constantly wonder whether it’s a good thing. And sometimes I think that none of us are really free, that we only create an illusion of freedom in our minds. So my affection for freedom, while it’s important, isn’t so holy that I don’t question it on a regular basis.

    Posted 06 Nov 2004 at 4:00 am
  8. steve wrote:


    We (those of us blathering on) are to blame for your mis-interpretation. The culture of life (as coined by the Holy Father… ya know… JPII, I think in his encylcical Humana Vitae) includes opposition to the death penalty in nearly all practical cases, extreme prejudice against war, and promotion generally of humane living and working conditions worldwide, among many other things I don’t remember right off.

    It should not, therefore, be construed to pertain only to reproduction. And hence our (many of Funky’s regular commentators’) ambivalence to the results of the ’04 election. In that, there is reason to hope for “better” on a couple of fronts, while reason to despair on quite a few others.

    Though I would never to presume to speak for you (you do that quite well enough :-), I think you would find many aspects of the “Culture of Life” to be attractive.

    And I think we could fundamentally agree that these are issues better fought for in the hearts and minds of individuals and not thru the power of gov’t (e.g., Saudi style). But where the power of gov’t can be applied to stem “evil” (insert whatever definition you like), I believe we should try to use it–only fully recognizing that this is a useless tool to change the hearts and minds of men and women.


    Posted 05 Nov 2004 at 10:52 pm
  9. steve wrote:


    Geesh, I just have to get this in too. About:

    So my affection for freedom, while it’s important, isn’t so holy that I don’t question it on a regular basis.

    suggests that you think dogma means something one cannot allow oneself to doubt. I think that is misleading. Any healthy faith (well axiom/belief system/dogma) must encounter doubt or it will weaken, wither, and die. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t doubt mine–it keeps them (i.e., the “axioms”) healthy.


    Posted 06 Nov 2004 at 5:32 pm
  10. steve wrote:


    I am trying to reconcile:

    practice that ought not be criminalized because people should be free to control their reproduction


    A fundamental part of my view of humanity is that nobody comes with a “right to life” or a right to anything. Rights are given or fought for but they are not intrinsic to existence.

    The part that bothers me is the “ought” as in “ought to be free to…”
    We may assume that such a right is given, but of course by whom? Or that such a right is fought for, but, again, by whom? But the bigger question is really the “ought”? It sounds rather intrinsic to me.

    Perhaps we ought (no pun intended) re-read “ought” as “is more aesthetically pleasing to me.” I still don’t see how this gets us around the intrinsic nature of the “sensibility.” If we say: “I’m aesthetically pleased that folks be free to control their reproduction.” Then are we not implicitly adding: “… and others ought also to be similarly pleased.” That is, at least if we want it to mean something more than “I dislike broccoli.”

    Parenthetically, I would agree that folks “ought to be free” to control their reproduction. It’s just that I take this “right” to be less than inviolable when the well-being of another is involved.


    BTW click the homepage for some great (and some not so great) misheard lyrics…

    Posted 06 Nov 2004 at 3:27 am
  11. theomorph wrote:

    When I say dogma, I’m thinking of this dictionary definition:

    “An authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or opinion, especially one considered to be absolutely true.”

    In that sense your substitution of “axiomatic” would not be to far off the mark. How is resistance to dogma dogmatic? Take what appears to be the most popular issue around here right now: When does “human” life begin? I think the answer to that question is variable and negotiable. You think it’s not. Your view is the dogmatic one, not mine, because you’re establishing an absolute truth. I don’t think an absolute truth exists on that question.

    Now you are probably going to come along and say that thinking something is “variable and negotiable” is itself a dogma/axiom/whatever. But to do that you have to make the words mean the opposite of what they actually mean. If everything, even anti-dogmas/anti-axioms are dogmas/axioms, then what are dogmas/axioms? Congratulations, the term is now meaningless.

    I find that this kind of terminological inversion is very popular with religious people who communicate with non-religious people. If we say we have no beliefs, they say that unbelief is a kind of belief. If we say we have no gods, they say that claiming to have no gods is just a different way of naming our gods. If we say we don’t like dogma, they say that not liking dogma is a dogma. And so on. No matter what a non-religious person says, a religious person will always be there to say that the non-religious person is in fact contradicting himself because it is fundamentally impossible to be non-religious. But the only way they can express that fundamental impossibility is by stretching the meanings of words to encompass their opposites, which they then justify with the original assertion that it is fundamentally impossible to be non-religious. Circularity anyone?

    This drives me up the wall. I don’t go around telling religious people that they’re just atheists in disguise. Religious people aren’t just atheists in disguise. Conversely, atheists are not just religious people in disguise, either. Certainly the experience of being human comes with much that is existentially the same for all of us, but simply responding to the same existential circumstances does not make our responses equal.

    Posted 07 Nov 2004 at 4:35 am
  12. Jerry Nora wrote:

    Yes, John, hence why a lot of us don’t like Bush.

    Note that Steve said “an extreme prejudice against war”. War can, however, still be justified. However, the deaths of 1.6M innocent humans via abortion is never justifiable, and Kerry’s abetting and aiding the war against the unborn is prima facie unacceptable to the Church. When a dictator is suspected of violating a UN armistice agreement, it is at least debatable whether war is justified. Never so for abortion, hence why I reluctantly voted for Bush.

    Posted 06 Nov 2004 at 3:05 am
  13. steve wrote:

    Yikes gotta stay away from less-thans and greater-thans… that last sentence shoud read:

    And thus, our various dogma/axiom/faith/[insert least unpleasant synonym]-based views are at bottom all alike and differ only in content.


    Posted 06 Nov 2004 at 5:26 pm
  14. steve wrote:

    [Oh, oh, this is abuse… for the argument you need 12a… just down the corridor…]


    It is objectively obvious that a unique mammalian organism begins a conception. My axiom is that each human organism has a right to be born and cared for. You say this right is variable or negotiable. Your view sounds less axiomatic, but only because it’s based on a hidden axiom that says no one has intrinsic rights. We’re really comparing two apples, but you’re only showing the orange in your hand.

    But as to the larger question of “terminological inversion,” I don’t think I’m trying to make any word mean what it doesn’t mean. It may force a non-intuitive result, but a valid result just the same.

    If we accept presupposition to be a synonym (more or less) of axiom, and axiom to mean (more or less) dogma. Then how absurd is it to say that I have no presuppostions? Rather, I think.

    Theo, you don’t actually expect anyone to believe (no pun intended) that you have no beliefs. You got zillions of them, and express them quite well (seriously) both here and on your home turf.

    I do not say it is fundamentally impossible to be non-religious. What I am saying is that it is fundamentally impossible to have a rational system of thought and not have axiomatic beliefs. And maybe that’s a statement of the obvious. But it may not be a very well advertised obvious. I’m not saying that atheists are just theists in diguise. I am saying that these systems of thought are closely related. They start with different presuppositions to be sure, but presuppostions none the less, and presuppositions neither more nor less rationally defensible–just pure, raw, unbridled axiom. (If one were objectively stronger than the other, one would surely have won out by now, at least among smart people. And there are far too many smart people on both sides of this issue. Too many dumb ones too, but that’s a different problem.)

    Oddly enough, these diverse sets of presuppostions lead us to the same conclusions a good bit of the time, which gets us back circuitously somewhere halfway near to the “Culture of Life-n-Death”.


    Posted 07 Nov 2004 at 7:08 am

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