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Me every day on the internet

11 Mar
Things I repeatedly find myself saying on the internet and social media:
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– That’s not true.
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– That missing person was found weeks ago.
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– That person was never missing in the first place.
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– That’s a very old hoax.
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– That hoax is older than your Mom.
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– That’s a new hoax.
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– Just kidding – it’s even older than the first one.
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– And your Mom.
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– No, Jesus didn’t say that.
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– And Christians don’t believe that.
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– Or do that.
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– Or that.
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– Not if they are serious about following Jesus, anyway.
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– Which is what actual Christianity is, y’know, about.
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– Yes, we do have evidence.
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– Again, that thing you reposted on Facebook is a hoax – check Snopes.
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– And Wikipedia.
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– And any reputable news source.
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– And real life.
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– The effect of that change in social mores has not been nearly so beneficial as you claim, on any number of metrics that are commonly accepted as indicators of health, security and wellbeing.
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– I know it’s only “one study”. It’s not the only one, and I’m telling you to keep an open mind.
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– You’ll get the “lots of studies” when I find time to write a book about it. Otherwise, the research is out there. Has it occurred to you that maybe the real science doesn’t sell newspapers?
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– Or that politicians don’t care about it?
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– Yes, man did land on the Moon.
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– No, we have not collaborated with aliens to build a secret base there.
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– The second shadow comes from sunlight reflected by Earth, not studio lighting.
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– No, not everything you read on Snopes is true.
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– Because not everybody on Snopes understands what they are talking about.
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– Or that opinion is not the same as logic, analysis or an impartial and thorough review of actual evidence.
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– Nibiru? No.
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– Because we would have seen it in all kinds of ways.
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– But not on your mobile phone.
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– Nor as a second sun mysteriously caught on a TV camera in one broadcast but also mysteriously invisible to billions of other people, millions of other cameras and the whole scientific community.
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– Could you take my word on this one? Or make a common-sense assessment?
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– Please?
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– Nor Planet X.
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– Nor chemtrails.
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– Guns. Kill. People.
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– Yes, there is a Planet 9.
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– But it doesn’t do the things you say Planet X does.
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– Which would make it not actually proof of your crackpot theory.
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– Well, the person who first published the Nibiru theory claimed to have been spoken to by aliens.
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– But who am I to judge?
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– No, Hitler and the Nazis weren’t Christians.
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– Pretty sure, actually.
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– And they didn’t get caught up in a secret plot to perpetuate the Third Reich through the 1960s space race.
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– The proposed changes in the legislation are not nearly so benign and neutral as this pressure group makes out.
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– It’s not homophobic to point that out.
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– Or transphobic.
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– Or bigoted.
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– It’s called freedom of speech.
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– And thought.
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– Yes, if it has a penis and testicles that produce sperm, it’s probably still a man.
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– It’s not homophobic to point that out.
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– Or transphobic.
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– Or bigoted.
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– It’s called scientific fact.
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– And thought.
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– Which was what we believed in before we decided feelings were the ultimate arbitrator of reality.
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– And after we did away with God.
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– Look, just let me know when Caitlyn Jenner starts menstruating.
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– Could you please actually read the Bible?
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– And try to understand that a New Testament can repeal sections of an Old Testament?
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– Or ask a Christian what they believe?
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– And how they come to that belief?
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– And how they live it out in practice?
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– Rather than telling them they believe and do what Richard Dawkins told you they believe and do?
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– Or that lobby group.
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– Or the National Secularist Foundation of Societies for Freedom From Religion And Anything That Questions Our Unquestioning Self-Regard.
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– *yawn*
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– Yes, I do eat prawns.
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– But not oysters.
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– You may have misunderstood the purpose of that commandment in the Old Testament.
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– And imposed a 21st-century, post-modern view of justice and democracy upon it.
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– Because an unmarried woman who had been raped couldn’t just go and claim social security in 1500 BC Sinai, that’s why.
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– Ditto that commandment.
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– And that commandment.
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– Seriously? Yes, that commandment too.
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– It’s not just an unfeeling clump of cells.
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– Three words: Abortion to term.
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– Liberal Christians don’t want to believe the Bible any more than you do. The clue’s in the name.
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– I know Rob Bell said it.
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– But Jesus didn’t.
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– If Jesus didn’t talk about that thing, maybe it was because it was already commonly understood in that era from 1,500 years of Jewish history and law.
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– Have you seen oysters? Seriously, no, thank you!
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– No, it’s not a Delusion.
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– And the translators do know what they are doing.
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– And the real history of the Crusades is not like that.
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– The evidence is there – you just have to investigate it honestly.
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– For yourself.
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– Because if Richard Dawkins is as blinkered, unresearched and biased as you are,* then it’s the blind leading the blind.
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– Well, there’s a chance that if you investigate these things for yourself you will achieve that thing that you’re always insisting I should do.
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– “What’s that?”
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– Learn something that will open your eyes.   :o)
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PS:
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– No, Jesus won’t turn you away for believing in Nibiru.
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– Salvation comes by faith in a God who has revealed Himself in numerous ways.
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– Not by passing a science test.
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Thank you for reading.
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*There is plenty of evidence that this is so.
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Alice’s Baby (Part 2) – a law graduate comments

23 Feb

Welcome to Part 2 of “Alice’s Baby” – my look at the implications of abortion for the law, and the implications of the law for abortion and society. In Part One I outlined the hypothetical case of a woman killing her prematurely-born child just hours before he would have been aborted, had an accident not intervened.

I’ll get to the discussion questions in a moment, but first I’d like to frame the discussion by explaining what this is about and why I’m writing this pair of posts. I’ve been hoping to write this article for a while as I think there is some important light that the law, and legal philosophy, can shed on abortion, particularly in light of the fact that premature babies born before the legal abortion limit are now surviving in considerable numbers, and also following on from revelations about partial-birth abortions, as practised in the Kermit Gosnell abortion clinic case.

(EDIT These posts seem all the more timely, given that the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has this same week called for the legalisation of abortions up to term, for any reason, and claimed that the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) supports this. Members  of the RCM claim that they were not consulted and have denounced the move. END EDIT)

I’m also going to anticipate some questions and objections that people might bring up.

i.) Isn’t this case study all a bit silly and arbitrary?

No. Laws exist for a reason. Good law protects people from all kinds of negative conduct and consequences. Bad law does the opposite. Law students – and indeed lawmakers – study legal problem questions such as this one in order to understand how the law works and how it might affect the people it governs.

University students all over the world get their law degrees in part by studying questions like this one.

ii.) Isn’t this case study loaded in favour of your (i.e. my) Christian pro-life outdated religious bigoted views?

No. The case study is an invitation to discuss a set of hypothetical facts which are plausible and adequate for the purposes of examining the implications of particular judgments that we might make about those facts. These facts do not in themselves presuppose any particular judgment. That this study might lead some people to agree or disagree with a particular stance on pro-life versus pro-abortion does not mean that the case study itself is rigged.

iii.) Does this case study bear any relation to real life?

Yes. The issue we are trying to decide is not only whether a woman should be convicted in the rare event that she would do what Alice has done, but to shed light on the issues surrounding abortion and the value of human life in general. These issues affect us whether we want them to or not.

iv.) Is this case study intellectually tenable?

Yes. Law is very much a science, and forms the bedrock of every society. Whether we agree or disagree with certain laws, the law in itself is an intellectually demanding field of study with complex foundations and principles that have developed considerably over time.

Law operates entirely independently from the laws of nature as observed by science, although science can inform the law and vice versa.

v.) Are you going to get to the discussions soon?

Okay.  :o)

I will both explore the questions in brief and give my own answers as well as trying to examine other possible views.

1.) Has Alice committed murder or infanticide? Has she taken a human life?

The Crown Prosecution Service (the body responsible for the prosecution of serious crime in England and Wales) defines murder thus:

Subject to three exceptions the crime of murder is committed, where a person:

  • of sound mind and discretion (i.e. sane);
  • unlawfully kills (i.e. not self-defence or other justified killing);
  • any reasonable creature (human being);
  • in being (born alive and breathing through its own lungs – Rance v Mid-Downs Health Authority (1991) 1 All ER 801 and AG Ref No 3 of 1994 (1997) 3 All ER 936;
  • with intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm (GBH).

Under this law (which I guess to be broadly similar in most other jurisdictions), Alice could only exonerated from murder if found not to be sane. It does not matter that her child has been born prematurely and could have been aborted – at the time of its death, the child was “in being”, capable of independent life by its own strength.

The alternative offence exists of infanticide, whereby a mother who deliberately killed her new born child while the balance of her mind was disturbed as a result of giving birth receives a lesser sentence than she would for murder.

The burden then lies with the prosecution to prove that the balance of the mother’s mind was affected such that she killed her child when she would otherwise not have done so. If Alice can reasonably be said to be rationally in charge of her own decision-making, the offence is murder; otherwise it is infanticide.

In all cases, however, it is clear that the child, while legally capable of being aborted whilst still in the womb, is a human being in its own right once born. Alice has unlawfully taken the life of a human being, not merely fulfilled the intent of aborting her pregnancy.

In short, Alice is guilty of killing her child. This has, or should have, implications for our understanding of the value of that child, whether born or unborn, and thus should have implications for abortion too.

2.) If Alice has committed murder (or infanticide), what implications does this have for abortion?

This is where abortion most obviously becomes problematic. Children are surviving increasingly premature births at increasing rates, thanks to the development of neonatal medicine and technology. Abortion is legal in the UK up to 24 weeks’ gestation.[1] Premature babies can survive from as young as 22 weeks’ gestation, with the survival rate for babies born at 23 weeks ranging from 15 to 40%. [2]

The implications are clearly serious: if a premature child has a viable (albeit fragile) life and reasonable (if low) prospects of living, by what mechanism are we able to claim that the unborn child is not a life while the born child is?

What about child destruction?

The doctrine of “life in being” is helpful in distinguishing murder from the crime of child destruction, i.e. the unlawful killing of a child in utero. Child destruction too is a serious offence, punishable by imprisonment for life. The fact that a child has not yet been born does not mean that it is not subject to the protection afforded by the law – indeed the law extends protection of life beyond life “in being” (actual persons) to life still in the womb.[3] While the law against child destruction does not of itself criminalise abortion, the distinction between life in being and the life of the unborn child, and its implications for Alice’s case, are not at all helpful to the case in favour of abortion.

It is worth pointing out that the offence of child destruction, rather than murder, applies if the killing is so proximate to the birth as to constitute an inseparable act. Alice’s case, however, involves a noticeable delay between the child’s birth and its death (and the case study was deliberately designed that way so as to create clarity), so the offences of murder or infanticide apply.

What does abortion law cover?

English law permits the termination of a pregnancy on the grounds of grave risk to the physical health, mental health or life of the mother, and similar. [4] Clearly this is routinely being ignored since abortion is essentially available on demand.

What does the offence of infanticide imply for abortion?

If Alice can be said to have committed the offence of infanticide rather than murder – a reasonable conclusion if the balance of her mind was upset by her accident and the birth of her child – the infant is still that: an infant. While abortion may be acceptable, and indeed desirable to many in society, it is this point about life and the viability or life, and the morality (or otherwise) of taking that life that is at issue here.

Does abortion take a life? And if a baby born prematurely can be the victim of infanticide (or murder, if a third party such as an “Angel of Death” nurse, or a friend acting on Alice’s behalf, were to kill the child), what moral distinction separates that baby’s life from the life of an unborn child which is aborted?

Should we continue to support abortion so broadly in the face of clear evidence that it kills viable babies?

Besides this, to what extent is viability a forceful argument in law? It is commonly claimed that abortion is justifiable because the foetus is entirely dependent upon its mother and is not a separate life. As we have already seen, this argument carries no weight as a defence to the crime of child destruction. And one might add that in addition to all foetuses, all 18-month olds are arguably fully dependent upon Mother and largely incapable of independent survival. Are they too candidates for termination?

3.) If Alice has not committed murder, or we would like to say that she has not, what implications does this have for the value of human life?

Is it reasonable for abortion’s supporters to claim that a child that has somehow escaped abortion should still be capable of being put to death legally? This is not idle kite-flying. There are some who argue that parents should have the right to have a newborn child put to death, since ending their lives is no different to abortion.

The obvious observation to make here is that this is the thin end of the wedge. What holds us back from broadening the scope of legislation that permits postnatal killing once it gains a foothold and becomes accepted? Moral philosopher (I cannot bring myself to use the word “ethicist”) Peter Singer has stated that no child should be considered a human life until it is 30 days old, and that some disabled children should be put to death without delay. Because they are not self-aware, he argues, “…they are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.” [5]

Richard Dawkins, for many the chief spokesperson for popular atheism, has said via Twitter that it would be immoral not to abort a foetus that was seen to have Down’s Syndrome. He has since apologised for the outrage this caused, but still he seems to be committed to the idea that aborting Down’s syndrome babies is a legitimate course of action and, as Singer’s words prove, he is not the only one who thinks this way. This argument for eugenics is clearly an acceptable view in at least significant parts of the academic establishment, and the fact that so many are articulating it proves that it is no flash in the Twitter pan.

Where does this shocking logic end? It is an argument based on a subjective view of quality of life, rather than the objective and simple (but not simplistic) view that all life has equal, supreme value, and that quality of life is very much a secondary concern – a notion not conferred on us by evolutionary science, but drawn from the idea that all human beings are valuable because we are created in the image of God. While some might laugh at the idea of God having anything to say about our worth, this has been the basis of our laws in the West for almost two millennia

It is worth noting that most secularists and political and religious liberals normally consider it to be a sign of our increasingly civilised and morally irreproachable values that we have done away with the death penalties and cruel and unusual punishments that featured in earlier times. Of course this is put down to the triumph of science and reason, but with our leading “reasoners” calling for babies to be put to death, can we be so sure that it is secularism and science that have given us our most cherished values, or does God provide us with transcending moral imperatives that do not shift with the whims of society and the opportunities afforded by technology?

Are we in danger of taking away those historical killings with one hand, only to bring them back in a different guise with the other? [6]

Furthermore, Singer’s is an argument that is capable of shifting quickly to encompass all kinds of persons whom we might find it more convenient to consider “non-persons”. What is to stop us (or our representatives in Government) from deciding that along with severely disabled babies, healthy babies can also be put to death if there are grounds for the parents to wish they taken up the offer of an abortion when they had the chance? Arguments for abortion up to full term are being made by some who see no reason to limit abortion to 24 weeks; why not allow that to spill over into killing babies after birth, since the difference between born and not-born is only as thin as the skin of the womb?

And why stop there? If babies (disabled or otherwise) are non-persons, or persons not worthy of the same consideration as the rest of us, why not euthanise severely disabled people of all ages, and with them the old, the mentally infirm, the simple, people with Down’s syndrome, people with incurable diseases, people who refuse to work for a living, or anybody else whom the political class considers beyond the pale?

If we cannot value the lives of unborn babies consistently and without partiality, is there any substantial hope that we will be able to value the rest of us?

Conclusion: Is this a realistic assessment?

Is this simplistic alarmism? Or are these things knocking at our door? Ideologies that valued some people-groups and severely denigrated others knocked on the door in many European countries in the 1930s and were welcomed in, resulting in body counts in the millions that we still condemn today. These ideologies included eugenics and discrimination against the disabled and infirm. Is there any reason – in a Europe or an America once again beset by ethnic conflicts, political challenges, and financial difficulties – why such measures might not be taken again?

It is common for liberals to argue that such things couldn’t happen here, or again. We know better now, supposedly. But is that true? The current times, with the National Health Service being broken up in spite of the concerns of a nation, and rights and benefits for the disabled being undermined, with disastrous consequences for many, prove that much decisionmaking is beyond the control of the ballot box. Politics is too complex – and courageous voices too few – for all evil to be restrained. The current combination of financial crises and increasing demands on public services make it all but inevitable that there will be increasing calls to wipe out of existence first individuals, and then some whole class of humans who we feel are a burden to society.

We haven’t arrived at such dark days yet. But we are getting there. Can anybody honestly say that the foundations are not being laid? Surely a society in which there is hope for all life to be valued looks different from what we are building at present. The trend would run in the opposite direction, and our prominent ethicists would call for us to protect the life of the child, disabled or otherwise, for in so doing we would be protecting the lives of us all.

In a society in which many of us arguably consider abortion to be routine, desirable and a human right, what is to stop us from hardening our hearts against lives in being?

Law protects life

To begin where we started, law protects life. While it may be argued that the law encodes principles that most of us already hold in our hearts, it nevertheless carries a force that shapes both the views and practices of individuals and the destiny of whole societies. Bad law can be identified by its propensity to lead to bad consequences. Law that blurs the definition of the value of life and renders other lives susceptible to being deemed not worthy of living by a process of logical extension is self-evidently bad law.

The problem with the current law on abortion is perhaps not that it is flawed so much as that it is being flouted. In other words, it is clear, but it is being ignored. It defines abortion as a crime expect in very specific circumstances, but it is not being enforced as such. Poorly-enforced law is as bad for society as poorly-drafted or poorly-conceived law. And poorly-enforced law in turn may lead to more extreme laws being written that grow out of behaviours formerly considered extreme which society has come to accept as normal.

Let us hope that those days don’t come, or else future Alices may be responsible for the killing of more than premature children.

The author holds a bachelor’s degree (LLB) in law and French from the University of Bristol.

Footnotes

[1] Abortion Act 1967

[2] http://preemiehelp.com/about-preemies/preemie-facts-a-figures/preemie-outcomes/outcomes-by-gestational-age

[3] Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, section 1(1)

[4] Abortion Act 1967, section 1 (1)

[5] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 1st ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 122–23, quoted at http://www.equip.org/article/peter-singers-bold-defense-of-infanticide

[6] It is also worth pointing out that, while considered barbaric by many today, capital punishment and amputations in history generally took place in the course of execution of sentence by the courts. Today’s call for putting human beings to death is not on the basis of guilt for crimes committed, but on the basis of a subjective view of their worth, and even the inconvenience posed by their existence. Which is more barbaric?

Alice’s Baby (Part 1) – a law graduate examines abortion

23 Feb

Where does abortion lead us morally and legally? I’m a law graduate, so by nature I like to examine the legal aspect of trends in society. I’ll save all the explanations for the follow-up article, in which I attempt to answer the questions posed by this post, but for now, here’s a legal problem of the kind you’ll find in degree-level tutorials at university law schools across the world, particularly on courses such as Medicine, Law and Ethics.

Introducing Alice: A Theoretical Case Study

Alice is a woman who has become pregnant and has subsequently decided to terminate the pregnancy. Her abortion is booked for Wednesday, the last day on which it is legally permissible for her to have the termination procedure. On the Monday morning directly preceding her abortion date, Alice is involved in a car accident and is rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

The doctors are able to save Alice’s life. To achieve this, they have to remove her baby from the womb by means of an emergency Caesarean section.

On Tuesday, Alice wakes from her coma to be told that her baby has been placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and is doing as well as any premature baby, with very good prospects for a healthy future.

That night, Alice decides that she still does not want to be a mother and, in spite of her pain and the risk to her health, is able to leave her bed and slip into the unit where her baby is in an incubator.

She kills her child by means of smothering and then goes back to bed. On Wednesday morning, a nurse comes to tell her that her child has died in the night.

Questions for discussion

1.) Has Alice committed murder or infanticide? Has she taken a human life?

2.) If Alice has committed murder or infanticide, what implications does this have for abortion?

3.) If Alice has not committed murder, or we would like to say that she has not, what implications does this have for the value of human life?

I hope that’s all pretty clear and straightforward. I’ll see you on the other side in Alice’s Baby, Part 2.

Don’t worry, Church – secularism has your back!

22 Dec

Does the church really need society to be secular to ensure religious freedom?

A commentator on this blog post helped to crystallise a few thoughts which have been circulating in my addled brain recently on the subject of secularism’s claim to be interested in religious freedom.

What the lady said was: “…the purpose of a secular society… is not to restrict, destroy or ban your right to believe, but to protect it. And not just for you, or for other Christians, but for everyone.” She’s by no means unique in this view; it has been on my mind for a while just how the secular lobby seems to see itself as the referee in matters of religious rights, apparently ensuring that all the believers from different religions play safely in an arena run by non-believers for the benefit of all.

How cute, I thought as I read her comments. And how naive.

It’s cute, because I’m delighted that the church, after struggling for 2,000 years to make headway in the world, finally has a bunch of unbelievers who are willing to look out for it.

I hope my sarcasm is shining through.

And it’s naive, because anyone who thinks that the agenda of the secular lobby is to protect, ensure, or otherwise facilitate the exercise of religion, is living in cloud-cuckoo land.

The truth of the matter is that not only has the church been quite able to take care of its own freedoms, thank you very much, but it has also been unique in its tolerance of other religions.

Okay, so strongly Christian local councils in western democracies may not be rushing to grant planning permission for new mosques, but look on the flip side: Christians in Muslim lands are routinely arrested and imprisoned for their faith, with some facing the death penalty.

As a religion of state, Christianity grants unparalleled freedoms to those of other religions, while other national religions (with the honourable exception of Judaism – could there be a connection?) are openly and obviously hostile to anything that smacks of apostasy or competition. In countries where religions other than Christianity dominate, life can be anything but safe for those who possess a Bible or who assemble to worship God in the person of Jesus Christ. And it is often unsafe for followers of other religions not sanctioned by the state as well.

Christian missionary organisation Open Doors has a watchlist of countries in which Christians are persecuted for their faith. Most of the Islamic Middle East is on it, along with North Africa, China and parts of Asia.

In the vast majority of Christian lands, however, anybody of another religion has the right to worship Allah, Buddha or Krishna (or the deities of a myriad of other religions) without fearing a knock on the door, imprisonment or deprivation of normal human rights. If there is a Christian nation whose government imprisons non-Christians for being non-Christian, I’m hard pressed to think of it.

So why does secularism offer itself as the guarantor of religious freedom and so glibly imply that Christianity is not up to the job? It is breathtakingly arrogant on the part of secular people – the kind of breathtaking arrogance of which secularists normally accuse Christians when they state that Jesus is the only way to God – to suggest that they are best placed to have religious people’s interests at heart. I’m pretty sure my Muslim, Hindu and other religious counterparts would agree on this point. “Thanks for the offer of help, but really, no thanks,” I imagine them saying.

Why can’t religions be their own advocates, without secularists meddling? While it’s true that secularists and Christians are standing together to preserve freedom of speech in the face of parliamentary bills that could criminalise street preachers, coming together in that fashion to protect a right from which so many movements can benefit is a bit different from asserting that the church can only thrive if secularism is there to protect it. Most religions seem to be perfectly at home with arguing their own case. Since no actual oppression of other religions by Christianity is taking place, why get involved? Obstacles to the building of mosques don’t really count – it is hardly persecution, and if Christian faith is to be both recognised as a good thing and if its tenets are to be properly observed (one of which happens to be exclusivity as regards what is divine), it does not seem right to pour resources into promoting other religions. They have the right to make their own way, free from persecution.

What secularists really believe, of course, is that religion is of no significance. With that established, it naturally makes sense that no religious person should be allowed to advocate for religious freedom, lest they foul it up for everyone by, y’know, actually taking their beliefs seriously.

And why should we let secularists impose any form of control on religion, even in the name of religious freedom? A quick feel of the pulse locates the secularist in one of two views. In one view, all religion is dangerous and should be eradicated. This is the view of Richard Dawkins and a great many others. The other view has religions back-to-front: when you hear a secularist (and indeed some “spiritual” or superficially religious people) saying “Islam is a religion of peace” and then blaming Christianity for the Crusades and virtually every other war or tribal conflict since, you know that (a.) that person hasn’t bothered to study either, and (b.) they intend to use this obfuscation to undermine Christian belief and practice, since that is the real target of their obvious misrepresentations.

Neither of these views offers much comfort for the religious people whom the secularists purport to serve. At least the National Secular Society and the Freedom From Religion Foundation are honest about their goals, but the “we’re here to ensure freedom for all” brand of secularism is disingenuous.

If Dawkins-style hostile atheism is a frontal assault on Christian belief, the supposedly supportive version of secularism is an attempt to render Christianity ineffective by making it as bland as possible – with the help of a smiley, faux-concerned appeal to our desire for religious survival.

As the Proverbs put it, “Whoever flatters his neighbour is spreading a net for his feet.” (Prov. 29:5)

So let us not be impressed by the claims of secularists to represent religious freedom. The very name “secular” indicates quite clearly how many figs they actually give for God, Jesus, the Bible, or the values Christians should be standing for. And let us, as this blogger argues, stand up for Christianity in the public space.

Because atheists and secularists sure as hell aren’t going to do it for us.

So you’ve “studied” religions…

15 Nov

Helpful Truth Of The Day: If you’ve “studied all religions” and can’t see any difference between them, you haven’t actually studied religions.

The Christian gospel is the Bible’s clear and inescapable message that God became man in Jesus Christ, and died to take the punishment for sins that each of us deserve. Jesus then rose again from the dead on the third day, ensuring that those who believe in Him could also be raised to new life after death.

This “substitutionary atonement” (Jesus paying the price for sin in our place) is the distinctive element of the gospel that sets it apart. While other religions may make mention of Jesus, usually incorporating Him into their roll of prophets, no other religion sees Him as God, or as capable of dying to bring us redemption and salvation from sins.

Religions are not all the same, and any believer who has genuinely studied their own religion will know this. While some religions may share similarities in terms of their moral codes, they have entirely different approaches to God. Yet only in Christianity is it the case that faith in Jesus Christ saves us from sin and reconciles us to God. In most other religions, people have to hope that their religious observance and good works are enough to save them.

Jesus came to do away with that uncertainty and that need for people to feel they have to try to earn salvation. And in raising Him from the dead, God showed that Jesus is the one He had chosen to be the saviour of the world, rather than Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, or any other religious leader.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6,7)

If you want to know God, get to know Jesus!

Keep searching!

There’s nothing wrong with divine reward

28 Oct

Dear reader, you may think I’m being too picky or too sensitive to seeing criticism where there is none, but indulge me for a few minutes.

The picture below popped up on my Facebook feed today.

But is it true?

It bears the slogan: “Caring people help others, not because they expect a reward, but because it is natural to show kindness.” It is one of many “positive thoughts” hosted on this blog and Facebook group.

It seems like a lovely thought, on the face of it. What could be better than doing good things for other people without expecting anything in return, and to have that generosity bubble up out of one’s very nature?

But is that what this proverb is getting at?

I have noticed recently that there are increasing numbers of messages sent out over social media which affirm certain desirable and uplifting behaviours, yet which also seem to take a subtle dig at Christian faith and practice. Atheists have all the right views, in other words, and you don’t need any of that God stuff in order to be Mother Teresa.

Atheists claim, “We don’t need God to be good!” They argue that any good they do is far more altruistic than that of the Christian because the Christian’s giving is motivated by hope of reward (bad) or fear of damnation (worse).

But does divine reward undermine charity, or even common decency?

Might the idea of reward in fact produce greater, more enthusiastic generosity?

I see it this way, from experience:

1.) Knowing that God rewards me frees me to be generous.
The Bible says, “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9) It also adds that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)

Knowing that God is able to provide for me releases me from worrying about how my needs will be met – and hence frees me to be generous. Does this work? I regularly give to support others whilst not having much money myself – even while in need, to the point of having bills to pay and not knowing how I will pay them. God always provides! It’s called living by faith: expecting God to provide for us as we provide for others, according to the promises of His Word such as those quoted above, which are based on the principle that in order to be receivers, we need to be givers first.

2.) Eternal reward frees me from making my life all about me.
There may be ardent atheists who are deeply altruistic, self-sacrificial and giving. More power to ’em. But atheism, with its emphasis on personal autonomy and fundamental philosophical commitment to the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest, is not a system by which to produce generosity or compassion in those who are not already inclined to be generous or compassionate. How could it? Indeed, it might be argued that most of our financial crises (particularly those involving fat cat bankers) have been precipitated by an atheist-evolutionary worldview: selfish gain replacing the deeply biblical notions of stewardship and accountability. The idea that we can be good without God may seem persuasive at first, but if there is no God, what motive do we have for doing anything other than what feels good or seems convenient?

What about soldiers giving their lives for their buddies in combat? Heroic, yes; altruistic, certainly, but you’ll notice that soldiers are generally inculcated during their training with a strong code of ethics and commitment – something that atheism, the Great Negative, outstandingly lacks.

What is there that pulls us towards generosity, in the way that a planet’s gravity pulls a wayward asteroid towards itself, even from afar? What are we being drawn by, or aiming towards, if not God?

Knowing that my life is most significant when set in the context of eternal judgment and its consequences – in this case, reward contingent upon obedience – sets me free at a fundamental level. If this life is all there is, it only means as much as I make it mean to myself, by whatever means seem most attractive to me, and all of that will be swallowed up by nothingness soon enough. Forgive me if I’m not blown away by that as a cast-iron guarantee of any of us Doing The Right Thing For One Another.

If, however, this life is only a brief trailer for a reality that goes on forever on the other side of death, then I can afford to live this life radically, unbounded by self-centred materialism. This life is not all there is, dying with the most toys is not the highest ambition, and my eternal future is secure in Christ, so why hang onto whatever I can get my hands on during my short stay on Earth?

3.) Reward for kindness is kindness.
Forget for a moment (if you’re sympathetic to the atheist position, at least) the idea that God is mean, nasty, a killjoy and a tyrant who is out to get us. What if God wants to be kind to us because He is naturally kind? And the reason He wants us to be kind is because He wants to see more kindness in the world? And that the people He most wants to be kind to are the ones who demonstrate the most of His kind of kindness?

Think of it this way: suppose you and I both work for a multi-million pound (1.5 multi-million dollar) company run by an older man who has no family of his own, but has real family values. His values extend to the point that he treats customers as family, and his staff too. His idea of a good way to run the company is to invite the staff and employees who give the best customer service to stay at his huge ranch, where they enjoy delicious meals in the fresh air, swim in the lake, walk in the beautiful countryside, and sit with him around the fire.

One night at the campfire, he says, “You guys are my heroes. Because you share my values and demonstrate them unfailingly to my customers, you are the people who I want to inherit the company when I am gone.”

Where is the self-seeking in those employees’ treatment of their customers? There is none! They have simply been best at adopting and reflecting the boss’s desires. Essentially, they have made his nature their own, and in so doing, have reaped a reward. The boss wants to share the best that he has to offer with the people who identify most with him.

(That sounds a little like God to me…)

Does the principle of caring for no reward – which secularists have staked out as their own – work?
Who Really Cares is an enlightening book by Prof. Arthur C. Brooks. In it, he investigates, with the benefit of considerable independent research, whether religious or secular people and/or conservatives or liberals are the most charitable. The answers surprised even him: it is Christian religious conservatives who are most inclined to give by way of personal charity. Secular liberals are most likely to support government giving money to those in need, but (some of you may be way ahead of me here) this also leads to lower personal giving amongst secular liberals as they see it as the government’s responsibility to address inequality on their behalf rather than their responsibility to meet the needs of those less well-off.

“I gave at the ballot box,” in other words.

It stands to reason, doesn’t it? If it is the government’s responsibility to give to those in need, you and I don’t need to. And if the government doesn’t live up to its brief to feed the hungry, and instead embarks on making the rich richer, selling off the National Health Service to cronies in business and school meal services to companies that feed children nutrition-free rubbish, well at least we have the right liberal-secular values, right?

Pat yourself on the back; you deserve a Nobel Prize for Nice Thoughts.

If Christians are giving more (and not palming that responsibility off on Government), it must be because something in Christianity prompts them to do so. If secularists are giving less than Christians, it must be because something in secularism causes them to feel inclined to give less, or because there is something they have given up by rejecting Christianity that results in them giving less.

Could it be that the sure hope of eternal reward, backed by Almighty God and demonstrated in the sacrificial death and consequent reward-resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the ultimate motivation for compassion and charity? And that we can’t do without God after all, if we truly want to see more people caring?

Keep searching!

The weakness of atheist brainwashing

1 Mar

Are you being brainwashed?

That’s the question I want to ask you at the beginning of this article.

Atheists are quick to accuse Christianity of brainwashing and Christians of being brainwashed. And they aren’t merely suggesting that some Christian sects engage in brainwashing, or that some Christians have been subjected to undue influence through mental and emotional manipulation. If some secularists are to be believed, all organised religion involves brainwashing.

Is this true?

On the basis of over thirty years of experience of many dozens of different churches and many thousands of individual Christians, I very much doubt it.

But rather than make the case that Christians are not brainwashed, which others have surely done very well elsewhere, why don’t we ask ourselves whether there is perhaps a certain element of brainwashing to secularists’ arguments against Christianity?

How does the boot fit when it is on the other foot?

I found a great example this morning. This picture popped up in my Facebook feed:

But is it true?


But is it true?

The photo is a collage contrasting ornate, heavily gilded Catholic churches and cathedrals with a picture of a severely emaciated African boy who is clearly on the brink of death by starvation. Alongside it, the caption: “We simply cannot afford to feed this person”.

The message is clear: according to the creator of the collage, the Catholic church possesses vast wealth, on which it sits, twiddling its thumbs, whilst people in Africa starve to death. Apparently the Catholic church does not care about starving children and is not lifting a finger to help them.

Or does it? A quick visit to Wikipedia found this:

The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world. In 2010, the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers said that the Church manages 26% of health care facilities in the world, including hospitals, clinics, orphanages, pharmacies and centres for those with leprosy.

The Church is also actively engaged in international aid and development through organisations such as Catholic Relief Services, Caritas International, Aid to the Church in Need, refugee advocacy groups such as the Jesuit Refugee Service and community aid groups such as the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.

Hardly the work of an organisation more interested in the gold on its spires than in feeding the starving, wouldn’t you say? In fact, here’s a picture of a girl getting water from a borehole that was made possible by British Catholic charity CAFOD (The CAtholic Aid FOunDation – geddit?):

Some secularists can't see this well.


Some objectors to Christian faith
can’t see this well.

If you look at news reporting of any major disaster in developing countries, you will soon find that churches and Christians, including the Catholic church, are quick to respond with lifesaving assistance. Very often it is Christian organisations that respond first to crisis situations and remain long after the TV cameras have moved on to other places, and after politicians have stopped making headline-grabbing promises.

While some may still claim that the Catholic church should still sell its remaining treasures and give the proceeds to the poor, it is not doing nothing, as the picture implies. I understand that some of the church’s critics are legitimately concerned with genuine instances of excess and waste on the part of a minority of Christian people. A great many Christians are concerned about that kind of greed too – indeed, it’s one of the sins from which Jesus came to deliver us.

Yet the reality of the church’s work in this world is a far cry from armchair “preaching” by haters. Do Catholics care? Does one’s faith make a difference to one’s compassion? How many hospitals or feeding stations are owned and operated in this world’s poorest countries by General Motors? General Electric? Time Warner? The communist party? The City of New York?

So what of brainwashing?

The image above was posted on a Facebook page entitled (please excuse the expletive; I’m only quoting) “Holy Shit“. The group’s URL includes the description “Free Thinkers”. At the time of writing, Holy Sh[you know the rest] has 22,000 followers, while the image itself had almost 200 likes and had been shared to people’s Facebook walls over 100 times within 13 hours of publication. Of course this is only one of thousands of such groups which exist to lambast the church for its failures – whether real or perceived.

It’s deeply ironic that such a baseless, blinkered, and frankly libellous accusation should be spoonfed to social media users in the name of free thought.

Nevertheless, that’s where much anti-Christian sentiment is at, at least for the man in the street (or the adolescent on the smartphone): Think of a negative about Christian faith or practice. Don’t ask yourself whether or not it is really true. Turn it into a generalisation. Repeat it wherever and whenever possible. Don’t apologise when contradicted by reality. For bonus points: Now tell yourself that it is Christians are brainwashed. Return to repeating the previous generalisation when the sting of being corrected has faded and you can cling to it comfortably once again.

Militant atheists and other secularists usually pride themselves on being the ones in possession of the facts. Science, evidence, rationality and truth are all supposed to be their forte.

However, when they repeat, with wearying regularity, accusations such as the one in the picture above – many of which can be quickly debunked with a few minutes’ googling – they are being neither scientific (since they do not investigate to see whether the hypothesis is true), nor basing their beliefs on evidence (almost by default, since they refuse to look at anything that might contradict their position), nor rational (since they are seeking to comfort their own distorted views rather than being objective), nor truthful (since they are repeating propositions that are demonstrably false, or at least making out that propositions that are only true in part are true in all cases).

They are, however, spreading untruths in order to foist their prejudices upon others.

And that, by anybody’s definition, is brainwashing.

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