Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Christian Nation? Well, kinda, mebbe, sortof

And that was a lucky thing
for Harriet McBryde Johnson

by Tom Van Dyke

It's certainly a bridge too far to claim America for Trinitarianism, for orthodox Christianity as we know it, but Jesus-as-God has never been an issue in our republic. That's why "Judeo-Christian" is used today, to remove the Trinity part.

However, despite Thomas Jefferson's protestations about his "influences" being non-Biblical, it cannot be disputed that John Locke was one of them.
"A great many things which we have been bred up in the belief of, from our cradles, (and are notions grown familiar, and, as it were, natural to us, under the Gospel) we take for unquestionable obvious truths, and easily demonstrable; without considering how long we might have been in doubt or ignorance of them, had revelation been silent. And many are beholden to revelation, who do not acknowledge it."
---Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity
Here Locke confesses that his work and the work of his contemporaries is heavily indebted to "revelation," which can only be read as "Biblical principles."

Whether or not Jefferson had the same self-awareness as Locke is immaterial. You can't take the Locke out of Jefferson, and you can't take the Bible out of Locke.

And even The Lord's Prayer survived Jefferson's razor when he created the "Jefferson Bible," where he edited the Good Book and took out all the supernatural stuff. But is The Lord's Prayer rational? Not by 2009's standards.

Jefferson is known, of course, for his bold and historic assertion on human rights---which isn't self-evident atall---the endowed by their Creator thing, an assertion that bears a striking resemblance to the work of [St.] Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, a notorious Christian. Jefferson is exactly the type Locke was referring to, those "beholden to revelation, who do not acknowledge it."

Now, Locke makes no claim here that the Bible is historically true: and like Jefferson, even the Jewish medieval philosopher Maimonides excised the miracles from scripture, too. [We can dispense with Trinitarianism thusly, for the sake of discussion. For one thing, we wouldn't want the government to order everyone to believe Jesus is God. That would defeat the purpose of the whole faith thing, and neither the Father, the Son, nor the Holy Ghost would be pleased, I think. That was the argument at the Founding, and a good one.]

But "love your enemy" is not rational, nor is The Lord's Prayer, nor is the 1700-odd years of theology of the "dignity of the human person" that led up to Jefferson's bold assertion of God-endowed rights.

We run the risk of turning Locke's statement, and the history of the Bible in western thought, into gibberish if we dismiss whatever we don't like as "irrational."
"Or whatever else was the cause, 'tis plain in fact, that human reason unassisted, failed men in its great and proper business of morality. It never, from unquestionable principles, by clear deductions, made out an entire body of the law of Nature. And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the new testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by Our Saviour, and taught by his apostles; a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired fishermen."---Locke, ibid.

It's not so much about what Locke himself believed, but the role of Judeo-Christian principles in founding the American republic. What Locke is saying here is that the Bible was further along than philosophy as a moral system.

Whether philosophy-slash-reason has caught up with the Bible is still questionable. I look at ethicist and philosopher Dr. Peter Singer of Princeton University, who believes that "characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness" are the primary claim to rights, so your newborn son or daughter is not yet a "person."

And Peter Singer is a reasonable man
So are they all, all reasonable men

These days, many "reasonable men" want philosophy to take over for theology---the Bible---thanks a lot, here's your gold watch and we'll take it from here.

But we should ask whether philosophy---reason---has come along any further since Locke's day, when he found it insufficient.

"Or whatever else was the cause, 'tis plain in fact, that human reason unassisted, failed men in its great and proper business of morality.

Men like Dr. Singer should give us pause before we hand over the keys to "human reason," and indeed Harriet McBryde Johnson, an atheist at that, found it to be an "Unspeakable Conversation."

"Human reason unassisted" would have killed her in her crib.



Kristo Miettinen said...

Hi Tom!

How convinced are you that Jefferson was motivated by Locke, or drew from him in any way, as opposed to Jefferson dressing up his otherwise provincial American wisdom in Lockean finery?

I have brought up before the example of the "Mayflower compact" (really a covenant) as an example (not from Jefferson, but JQA) of reading Locke in where he didn't belong. Might TJ have been up to the same?

King of Ireland said...

Tom stated:

"But "love your enemy" is not rational, nor is The Lord's Prayer, nor is the 1700-odd years of theology of the "dignity of the human person" that led up to Jefferson's bold assertion of God-endowed rights."

Well put! But I thought the theology of all this was not relevant? Or are you stating that the specifics distract from this overall point?

I look at Jon's post from today, yours, and the whole thread of discussion for months here and it seems to always get back to the DOI and Romans 13. I think it is because the DOI is based on the Biblical principle of the "dignity of the person" and the only way to try to dissolve that is to point to Romans 13 in an effort to disprove that principle.

Why? If God wants us to suffer under tyranny then there is no dignity of the person. We can blame Hitler, The Kings of Europe, The Popes... on the Bible(and thus God) and have a French Revolution against religion. Our revolution was against religion as an excuse for tyranny not religion itself. There is a huge difference. But the strict secularists of today want to take away this distinction and color it all blue.

They use Romans 13 to do it. If that argument falls then the Biblical principle of "dignity of the human person" will be seen as the lynch pin to Western Culture once again. There are times we have gotten away from it and things got bad but that glimmer of light still kept us from delving into the depths of despair as describe in "The Lord of the Flies". This is how most of the world lived before the light of this Biblical principle came.

At its darkest time along came Aquinas and humanism was re-established. Lest we forget that humanism, the study of the worth of the individual, was a Christian concept hijacked by secularists. They want to claim the ideas and forsake the principles behind them. If they succeed we are on on our way to another Dark Age.

King of Ireland said...

Great post Tom!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Kristo, I think you're on to something. The very orthodox Samuel Adams praised Locke, and "Locke" certainly was a "finery" for provincial American wisdom. When Locke praised the "judicious" Rev. Richard Hooker [often], Sam Adams and James Wilson took him at his word.

Even though Locke was often saying the opposite. For our purposes, more important than what Locke actually meant [some see him as a radical and a Hobbesian] is how the Americans perceived him. Or appropriated him. "Finery" is a good way to put it. It's like quoting Einstein or JFK today, a seal of approval for any argument.


Thx, King. The larger point is Locke's observation about human beings, that we are largely the product of our milieu and take many of our presuppositions for granted without realizing their origins.

It takes a radical rationalist like Peter Singer decoupling us from our religious foundations to illustrate how much we take them for granted.

As for the Luther/Calvin view of Romans 13 [which is also the traditional one before the medieval Christian philosophers], it reminds me of Islam's similar fatalism/acceptance/acquiescence to the will of God. Inshallah, one says routinely.

It's an Old World vibe.

Without the medieval theologians, the "dignity of the human person," and natural law arguments---and we must add the notion of freedom of individual conscience ala Founding-era Protestants like Elisha Williams--- Inshallah trumps any notion of individual liberty.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Either you I or both should do a front page post on E. Williams. From what I have studied this was the FIRST, or at least the first notable political sermon in America that incorporated Locke.

As you could probably guess, Dr. Frazer considers this an "importing" of ideas alien to "Christianity" into the pulpit.

It's a very East Coast Straussian notion.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I showed Pete Singer on the Colbert Report to my class the other night. I like to see their reaction. They are always shocked at the notion/implications of erasing the moral distinctions between humans and animals AND at his views on infanticide.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Funny. I've been working a bit on the highly influential German theologian Karl Barth, with whom Dr. Frazer's no doubt familiar, as he was a Lutheran who was more Calvinist than Calvin.

Barth was completely the anti-Aquinas, and traveled in the same circles in 1920s-early 30s Germany as Leo Strauss. I have no doubt this influenced his view of Christianity and therefore how "East Coast Straussians" view what Christianity is and should be.


As for the Protestant Elisha Williams [1744 CE]:

"Reason teaches us that all men are naturally equal in respect of jurisdiction or dominion one over another."

The Catholic cardinal [St.] Robert Bellarmine [c. 1600 CE]:

“All men are equal, not in wisdom or grace, but in the essence and nature of mankind” (“De Laicis,” c.7)

“There is no reason why among equals one should rule rather than another” (ibid.).

[St.] Thomas Aquinas [c. 1250 CE]:

“Nature made all men equal in liberty, though not in their natural perfections” (II Sent., d. xliv, q. 1, a. 3. ad 1).

Williams' "The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants" may be found here. Some of it gives me a headache. Yes, he mentions Mr "Lock" often.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, I continually ask my nonreligious friends to refute Dr. Singer's reasoning. So far, no takers.

Not that I blame them. I can't refute it either without cheating with God stuff.

bpabbott said...

Wow, at lot of questionable reasoning in this :-(

ex: "love your enemy" is not rational

It is if you believe such will reap either material and/or spiritual rewards.

Beyond that is it reasoned or rational to attack human reason by claiming the most inspiriting passages of the NT to be irrational? ... (1) No if you want others to prefer scripture to reasoned thought, (2) Yes, if you desire reasoned minds to embrace the NT.

ex: However, despite Thomas Jefferson's protestations about his "influences" being non-Biblical, it cannot be disputed that John Locke was one of them

Where are Jefferson's claims that he was not influenced by the Bible? ... Regarding Locke being influenced by the Bible and Jefferson influenced by Locke what are the specifics you imply? (are they spiritual influence, theological, or material) ... What ever they may be, that Locke was influenced by the Bible and Jefferson by Locke does not mean that Jefferson was enfluenced by the Bible (I think he was, but not due to TVD's argument).

Both Locke and Jefferson were influced by the Greeks, is it appropriate to say; "You can't take the Locke out of Jefferson, you can't take the Greeks out of Locke, and you can't take Zues or Thor out of the Greeks?"

Sounds silly to me.

Regarding the equivication of "all reasonable men" with Peter Singer, "a reasonable man", ... is it time to brand all Catholics with Swastikas?

In any event, regarding a reasoned discusson of Peter Singer, some can be found here. Theres a lot to read there, and does not include a direct assualt on Singers position regarding "infantcide", but the subject is discussed.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Abbott misses Locke's point about "human reason unassisted," about Jefferson's non-acknowledgment of his source for God-endowed rights, and presents no reasoning at all in his link that would make the infant Harriet McBryde Johnson a human being with God-endowed rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Three strikes. Out. :(

bpabbott said...

Tom, I'm not at the opposite end of the spectrum from you. I'm not favoring an opposing view, only pointing out the error in your reasoning.

Perhaps, I should have been more clear.

You appear (to me) to be exluding the middle in order to position yourself in a debate between a conservative leaning position and a far-fetched position ... i.e. framing the in such a way to make your case easy.

Rationalism and Peter Singer for example.

There is no need to defer to scripture to refute Singer.

I find the immorality of infanticide to be self-evident. I'd not be happy living in a society that accepted such a practice. I'm convinced that the vast majority of all humans would agree. Thus, Singer loses.

Regarding Jefferson / Locke, your demand that reason be "unassited" or Biblical is an even better example. No one who has lived in the last thousand years can claim they have not been influenced by the BIble (OT + NT).

If you think there is an example where Jefferson makes such a claim, please present it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ben, the reason I don't want to discuss anything with you anymore is because you'll turn on me at the drop of a hat and have done it too many times, for the sake of the cheapest and insignificant of points. I won't subject myself to your betrayals of my trust and good will anymore. OK? Do we understand each other yet?

That you would not exterminate Harriet McBryde Johnson in her crib speaks well of your sentiments and perhaps your humanity, but you cannot reasonably argue against Dr. Singer's eminently reasonable reasonableness. Or else you would have, instead of this bunch of nothing.

It takes a radical rationalist like Peter Singer decoupling us from our religious foundations to illustrate how much we take them for granted.

"A great many things which we have been bred up in the belief of, from our cradles, (and are notions grown familiar, and, as it were, natural to us, under the Gospel) we take for unquestionable obvious truths, and easily demonstrable; without considering how long we might have been in doubt or ignorance of them, had revelation been silent. And many are beholden to revelation, who do not acknowledge it."
---Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity

Or if I can't reach you through your intellect, Ben---and I manifestly cannot, and I have come to think that nobody can be reached that way---please read Harriet McBryde Johnson's "Unspeakable Conversation," linked in the OP.

I put it there for you, actually, Ben. I do think of you. I do write for you. Ben. The rest of this is just gamesmanship, and whether I win or lose the debate, it amounts to nothing. What she has to say speaks with genuine moral authority. The rest is just talk.

bpabbott said...

Tom, I think I have given a rational and reasoned argument against Singer. What I did not do is give an analytic argument to the problem as Singer frames it.

Analysis is most favorable when solving problems/questions for which there is only *one* unique answer. Singer's solution is predicated upon his framing of the problem. The idea of accepting the problem as Singer framed it and attempting an opposing solution is ... well ... pointless.

I find Singer's solution to be ammoral ... I find its application to be immoral. What Singer demonstrates is that logical analysis does not favor a moral result unless that morallity is explicitly, or at least implicitly, including in the formulation of the problem.

J said...

Jefferson also excised the "Resurrection," miracles, and Book of Revelation. The completed TJ New Testament totals what about 20 pages or so: The sayings of Jeezus, Abridged.

Not the greatest example for the judeo-christian dogmatist. I would agree Jefferson does have a pronounced Lockean aspect (Madison, and Hamilton slightly mo' drawn to Hobbesian ideas). As with much of Locke's system in ECHU, there are inconsistencies, not to say hypocrisy to Jeffersonian thought and a certain naive empiricism that we might question.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Abbott, your "framing" of the question to make it "moral" will necessitate including Judeo-Christian principles like the dignity of the human person, whether or not you realize it or acknowledge it.

"A great many things which we have been bred up in the belief of, from our cradles, (and are notions grown familiar, and, as it were, natural to us, under the Gospel) we take for unquestionable obvious truths, and easily demonstrable; without considering how long we might have been in doubt or ignorance of them, had revelation been silent. And many are beholden to revelation, who do not acknowledge it."
---Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity

That is the point of this essay, and its reasoning is quite sound, thank you.

cartwright said...

The reasoning is flawed. It assumes certain ideas found in the Bible can only be discovered by revelation and not reason. You haven't shown this at all.

J said...

Lockean theological rationalism itself deconstructs itself. Locke claimed "Revelation must be tried at the Court of reason," or something didn't he?? That raises the problem of historical authenticity, miracles and status of other faiths--not to say the problem of justifying the existence of a God a posteriori.

That pleasant Lockean empiricism gives way to Humean concerns, and Hume pretty much reduces ju-xtian scripture and theology to a strange historical footnote via a few paragraphs in the Enquiry. Believe if you will, but never mistake your religious belief for rationality itself (or as supported by evidence).

Franklin was a pal of Hume, btw, and I suspect Hume had more influence on the framers than many realize (though of course his writing would have offended the puritanical sorts),

Tom Van Dyke said...

Cartwright, per Locke, I showed that those principles were discovered through revelation [which is merely to say "the Bible," not "God."].

Please do argue how they can be discovered by "human reason unassisted." Argue why killing Harriet McBryde Johnson in her crib is unreasonable or immoral. Everyone has failed, you'll get a gold star.

Locke allows that it might be done [read him carefully], just that it had not been done up until his time. I go further to illustrate it hasn't been done up until OUR time!

And J, you'll get the hang of things around here eventually. No truth claim is made here---by me or Locke---that the Bible is historically true. Indeed I wrote that explicitly of Locke in my original essay ["Locke makes no claim here that the Bible is historically true"] and for myself, implicitly, as I make zero truth claims.

And I don't think you can make your Hume claim hold up. Madison used him on structure of government and human dynamics, but you won't get the Founders [except Paine] anywhere near Hume's agnosticism/deism/atheism.

You really need to poke through our archives a little. This blog didn't just fall off a turnip truck.

J said...

I'm not saying "Hume's behind it", merely saying he had some influence--the general emphasis on reason, on subjecting religious belief to inquiry, the secular elements (ie First Amendment) relate to the entire anglo empiricist tradition, such as it is (or was)--including say Adam Smith, another pal of that dastardly Hume. The theologians, even calvinist sorts, were outgunned.

In terms of the religious sensibilities of American citizens, I might agree most were orthodox and puritans(though I doubt that's the case on frontier, or in more southern zones). As far as the intellectual leaders--the framers themselves---I don't think that's the case. Not sure of the spiritual breakdown of the ratifiers, but the virginia boys (including Jeff. and Mad.), or NY and jersey were certainly not biblethumpers. Even Boston had some freethinkers around as well. So, I beg to differ with your general thesis that the Constitution, BoR and DoI were shaped primarily by calvinist orthodoxy. In ways, the AR was a reaction against the puritans.

Tom Van Dyke said...

So, I beg to differ with your general thesis that the Constitution, BoR and DoI were shaped primarily by calvinist orthodoxy.

That has never been claimed here, except by one of our former commenters. Please read carefully. Further, there were more Founders than Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Franklin. A lot more.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

All societies base their society on the rules that they agree will define that society. Therefore, I think reason is the best way to come to terms with what is of value, and what should define the "Laws" that bring about definition.

From what you say, I agree with the professor from Princeton. He sounds reasonable to me :).

J said...

Well, in the above post (and others) you certainly suggest that via Locke's point on the superiority of religion to reason and so forth. Again, I think Locke's own assertion does not really hold: Locke at one point insisted that scripture be subject to "reason's court" did he not? Jefferson understood that.

Locke regularly code switches--he wants religion, yet also denies innateness (if not a soul). He wants scripture, but then says that scripture's subject to critique via the dictates of reason. America follows from Jefferson and Madisonian secularism--the Locke has been filtered through TJ, the DoI, Const. That the majority of people now (or then) are protestants, baptists, etc. does not really pertain to the historical/foundation issue--really, the baptists came out of civil war south, and were not that represented in early America. I doubt even the old, dour presbyterian sorts would approve of revelation-chanting fundies like a Hagee.

cartwright said...

Tom Van Dyke said...Cartwright, per Locke, I showed that those principles were discovered through revelation [which is merely to say "the Bible," not "God."].

No, neither you nor Locke has shown that. You've only asserted it but haven't proven it.

Now, to be clear, I'm only talking about general principles, not Christian specific principles, like that to get into heaven you must believe in Jesus Christ as God.

And to be more clear, it's inarguable that all morals require subjective conclusions at some point in their formulation, however that doesn't mean any single moral belief requires the Bible or any other kind of external "revelation."

You bring up "love your enemy" as an example. bpabbott allready explained a rational basis for that belief. It can also be considered a corollary of the golden rule, which is itself a rational idea.

You also bring up that Jefferson included the "Lord's Prayer" in his Bible. However, there's nothing in the prayer that would be irrational to a Deist believer in Providence.
"Give us our daily bread" doesn't require revelation for a Deist.

You also bring up murdering a baby in a crib. First, I don't see how the idea to ban this kind of murder would be specific to the Bible or any other revelation. You haven't proven this. Second, as I said earlier all morals rely on some subjectivity, even the idea to ban murder of non-crib humans.

Disregarding your failure to show how this idea is Bible-dependent, your challenge still depends on a couple of fallacies: the assumption that there is only one right "true" morality, and the assumption that any moral must be agreed upon by 100% of humans to be considered independent of revelation. It is possible for persons to rationally differ on morality since morals are all subjective at some point. If Singer believes that infanticide is rational, it's because he subjectively has chosen a different standard than others would (and reading his FAQ shows he does use different standards than others do -- it should also be pointed out he does not think it's always "good" for anyone to be allowed to kill an infant, but that in certain circumstances, it is better for a parent to be allowed to kill a newborn than to no to be allowed to kill it).

Any moral belief popularly held today (e.g., banning theft) can be argued against by someone adopting different subjective standards (e.g., as to theft, that a person's individual wants or desires should be paramount). Infanticide is no different. That would only be a problem if we needed 100% agreement for us to come to any moral judgment personally or societally, but we don't need 100% agreement.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angie Van De Merwe said...

I hope no one suggests that athiests and agnostics cannot be "ethical". Ethics trumps the "morality" of conventionality, because ethics is based on a higher "good", or a "higher principle" than moral convention.

As to Locke's "no innateness", this is the defense of the "blank slate" where individuals are "brought up" or "educated" in a tradition that maintains the rules that identify the "moral behavior" that is appropriate. But, that is still speculative, in today's climate of nureoscience, and some, such as Freud would undermine the religiously driven as an illusion based identification that hinders full development of ethical thinking or critical thinking about such issues.

As to Singer being "emotion-based", I didn't "see" that, so much as that "life" is identified by rational choice. Or, perhaps, "life" is valuable if there is rational choice. Otherwise, others determine what is to transpire for that "life". This is where groupish thinking is dangerous. We must not disregard reason's need to question all authority, because otherwise, we will be doomed to be servants of another's rationale, without coming to full conviction for ourselves.

Some "life" is not chosen. But, this is where protection of "life" in "liberty" is of value. This has ethical implications, and not rule based law. Therefore, life is of value, period. We might differ as to what defines "life" in a scientifically based society, such as ours. We have more choices because of the knowledge that science gives to us. This may or may not help us in formulating what "should be" the foundations that under-write society.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, we can't base a conversation on Locke's thought based on two quotes in a blog essay. Read the entire original section for yourself. Then we could discuss what we're discussing.

He did not say religion was superior to reason, only that it was superior so far in history in establishing a moral code.

I added we haven't got much further since Locke's time, in fact we may have got worse.

Please do read Harriet McBryde Johnson's article. Then we could discuss what we're discussing.

I think reason is the best way to come to terms with what is of value

Uh-huh. Reason against Peter Singer, then. That's all I've asked from the first.

J said...

Singer's point on permitting the killing of infants (and fetuses) is not that mysterious. I'll spell it out for you : Fetus X is in the womb of a poor, crack-addict mama. Better to abort (less pain, per Singer's own sort of emo-utilitarianism) than to allow it to live, suffer, and cost many people (including the state, most likely). Add a disease or deformity, and the case for abortion or infanticide seems quite stronger--sort of cost-benefit approach to a potential human life.

That it's an infant of a few months--even two or three years--instead of a fetus doesn't seem to alter the situation that much (I think it does if the kid is healthy and sane at say 5 or 6--not sure of cutoff...)

I don't necessarily agree (and not sure who's qualified to make the judgement), but an understandable--and reasonable-- point of view, certainly for secularists who don't believe in a transcendent soul. I don't think Harriet quite got it--and really, not a slam dunk that Harriet was better off living anyway.

The "what would Locke have said game" not really relevant, though Locke did uphold a pleasure-based ethics for most part, and I suspect Singer would agree that Locke's a proto-utilitarian. So per Lockean utilitarianism also defensible.

bpabbott said...

cartwright, good points.

There is also the troubling implication that these certain ideas actually originated with Bible and did not have human origins.

We all inherit most of our knowledge and influences from those who came before us. For us, the Bible is certainly one of those influences. At the same time the Bible didn't just appear on the steps of a church. It was written over several generations, with hundreds of years passing before it the Hebrew Bible became more fixed than fluid. It appears the Bible has also inherited a lot from both the history that preceded it and through the various additions and refinements that occured over many centuries.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Exactly. Peter Singer is a reasonable man.

And neither Locke nor I claimed the Bible was historically true.

You're getting there.

J said...

Ah, you mean some intuitive, quasi-theological sense of justice or something. I don't think you can prove that, much less show it's a value shared by humans.

Aborting a deformed fetus--or infant-- of poor mother doesn't offend my "intuitive" sense of ethics anymore than allowing it to live does--I certainly can imagine scenarios where the mercy killing of a handicapped infant (say a siamese twin) would be preferable to letting it live. It's a case by case issue, but I think you're insinuating Singer's a Mengele sort, and that's not really supportable. He's just applying a sort of cost-benefit model to human life, and that offends the believers.

Tom Van Dyke said...

He's just applying a sort of cost-benefit model to human life


and that offends the believers.

It offends Harriet McBryde Johnson, who is not a believer. I do not know how this reconciles with Rawls' original position. I'm all ears.

J said...

Well, fetuses and infants are not yet rational agents--as Singer would probably agree--so a bit of a stretch to include them in the original position matrix. Rawls does ask for a certain degree of rationality (though leaves it a bit open-ended). I do think abortion--or say mercy killing of the handicapped--would be part of some larger social construct which agents would decide upon. I'm not saying all would agree to it, but any rational person might do a bit of introspection and imagine scenarios where you, or your spouse/gal-pal/significant other/surrogate bio-mama would support the mercy killing of a severely handicapped fetus (say one without legs, etc).

Harriet disagreed, but I don't see exactly why she does,except by claiming she is smart, special and so forth regardless of the handicap. OK, I agree that if the fetus appears mentally healthy/normal, but merely physically disabled that complicates matters, but that disabled but smart baby could still cost a fortune, suffer a great deal and so forth.

bpabbott said...

J, regarding mercy killings of a deformed fetus or infant, I share your sense of ethics. I'll also note that it is my understanding that such was at least rumored to be a common practice not so long ago. That it is less common today, I assume, is a testament to modern medicine's ability to reduce needless suffering, and the parents expectations that their infants have a good chance at happiness even when deformed.

Tom Van Dyke said...

If Harriet McBryde Johnson had been an orphan, and Dr. Peter Singer had been in charge of the nursery, he'd have killed her.

If you had been there would you have stopped him? Helped? Walked away, it's not your call?

J said...

Probably thumbs down, sorry to say.

Same for Sarah Palin's little dysfunctional bundle of wuv, trig.

That said, I think there are better reasons for saving the disabled smart baby than the mentally disabled, down's syndrome, or retarded who may be physically OK. Steven Hawkings are needed. Trigs aren't.

King of Ireland said...

And Jay proves the case that some sort of value of human life is needed or we will descend into a "Lord of the Flies" world again sooner than most think. J thanks for showing up and proving Tom's exact point!

J said...

Non-sequitur, if not complete misreading. By suggesting disabled/deformed fetuses/infants be mercifully killed (though also agreeing it's a complex issue), how does one not value life?? Obviously the parent's lives could definitely be improved (and they would save a great deal of money, and suffering)--so the M-K would be valuable in certain situations.

Singer may irritate believers, but he does argue his case fairly effectively, and is not exactly a Dr. Mengele.

King of Ireland said...


Where does it stop? I got a woman pregnant when I was young. Everything that could go wrong did as far as the relationship and its adverse affects on the child.
It also took probably 13 years of my life sorting through all the heartache. I am sure it took his Mom some time as well.

So if we had a magic time machine and could go back and either not have sex or do what we did and abort him or just kill him at 18 months when it all blew up should we? I think not. He is a valuable human life. Not because of what he can bring society or how much money he can bring his parents. It is because he is my son.

Now what separates the Judeo-Christian ethnic and other world views that see man in the image of God from other outlooks is that another man's son is just as valuable as mine. Otherwise, I might want to go kill his son to save mine if I thought a food shortage was coming or he was going to take his job from him one day or whatever.

At least you are consistent and I applaud that but your ideas scare me. If there are many who think like you(and more and more are) then 2,000 years of History is soon to go out the window and we will return to "Lord of the Flies" world.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Social Darwinian evolution would adhere to the "survival of the fittest", but is not necessarily bad. Why? Self-interest is an ability to appeal and negotiate about what one values and wants to commit to. The problem is, if there are some jobs that are undesireable in society. How do we fill them. The lower status jobs are paid minimum wages, while those who have developed their abilities beyond the minimal will have leverage in negotiating salary based on the market.

Only uncivilized societies would go to the point of killing another's son to protect one's own.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

But, I am assuming that the ones that maintain power are also affirming a free market and not some "charitable service" where the powerful determine who and where one will "play out" their lives. This is communistic/socialistic.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, King. We value clarity over agreement.

If we're going to turn the question of life and death over to the Dr. Strangelove of Princeton [I stole that one], let's know what we're getting into.

bpabbott said...


I'm not convinced your personal example makes a good blue-print to decide the issue, but ... regarding,

"[...] It also took probably 13 years of my life sorting through all the heartache.

For me, holding to my firmest held principles is what would drive such a decision. I assume you did this yourself and that the heartache would have been greater and lasted longer had you chosen differently.

Not to stir the pot, but I think your words regarding an 18th month old were poorly chosen. My understanding is that such an act would constitute murder by any standard, including Singer's.

Now, regarding the Judeo-Christian ethnic, your example is not new to me, but I have always found it troubling. Are you personally convinced that in the absence of your religious influences that you'd be willing to kill another's son to save your own?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Abbott, in his sophistry and abstraction of real life to meaningless chatter, has apparently never heard of "war."

Mr. Abbott exploits K of I's confession of personal human pain and regret to make another of his non-points under guise of a "question."

Ben, "J" has the honesty and guts to plainly state his agreement with Peter Singer's philosophy. You've been replaced with a worthier man.

Not to stir the pot

That would be a lie, Ben. That's all you're capable of, and all you've ever done on this blog except for a John Adams quote you posted multiple times, never once understanding what it actually says.

In all your time here, you have never offered a single argument of of substance on the Founding and betray your lack of intellectual honesty and human empathy with your every comment. I'll take either; you exhibit neither.

I'll take my chances with our new friend "J" if he has the guts to gut it out. He hasn't attacked anyone personally and has achieved a level of plainspokenness in a week that you have never approached in years.

Take your games somewhere else. You have never furthered an intelligent discussion here ever, and I defy you to prove otherwise.

Not once, not ever, have you contributed to our knowledge or understanding together, our joint inquiry.

If you can't prove otherwise, then piss off, Ben. You've agreed with Peter Singer all along but didn't have the guts to say so and put your own ass on the line.

It's not about what you believe, it's your sneakiness about it. I have no problem with you, "J," as long as we observe the rules of "civilization." It's not as if your arguments are unfamiliar.

And King, one thing I've learned from years on the internet is don't take the bait. There's a difference between good faith and ill will. Good faith should get as much care as you can manage. Ill will is poison. Mr. Abbott has never exhibited good faith except as a charade---the scorpion's tail is always poised and ready to strike.

bpabbott said...


My question had / has no nefarious intent. My inquiry was / is genuine.

You've made a lot of accusations. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to lower the blow after I've actually done the deeds you suspect me of planning.

If you have something specific to criticize regarding my commnet(s), I'm open to it, but I have little interest in broad insults and/or accusations regarding my character.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

In taking a chance on 'sticking my nose into other people's business", which is usually unwise...I must say, I don't know what all of the disagreement is about. I have learned a lot on this blog and hope that the conversation is not any less forthright, because without difference of opinion, there can be no real assessment of different approaches to the issues...

So, just for my 'two cents", I hope that those who disagree with how others "disagree" will find another blog (I hope that is not presumptuous on my part)...

Tom Van Dyke said...

You're right, Angie. You don't know what this is about.

King of Ireland said...


I was an atheist when I decided to keep the baby. I also feel that some of the religion around inherent in living in a society that has been shaped, at least partly if not greatly, by Judeo Christian ideas helped shape that decision.

bpabbott said...


Thanks for responding. I hope you didn't take any offense at my inquiry. None was/is intended. As I'd tried to explain (perhaps poorly) my curiosity was peaked regarding my inference that in the absence of religion you'd might kill one man's son to save your own.

To be honest, had you replied in the positive, I'd have been very surprised, as it would have been contrary to my expectation after having read many of your posts on this blog.

In any event, regarding the positive role many Judeo Christian principles have played in shaping our society, I am in agreement ... and although I'm disappointed by some of the negative influences, I am pleased to acknowledge those came to pass ... and expect others will as well.

Thanks again.

bpabbott said...

Angie, you've been a gracious and polite participant on the blog. As far as I'm concerned anything posted in such a public forum is fair game for comment or critique ... So neither you or anyone needs to ask my permission, but ... feel free to poke you nose in when you fell like it :-)