Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pray for This Soldier [SK]

    Text message from our son Tyler, serving in a combat role in Afghanistan:

[Warning: Graphic and disturbing content]

    hey dad. today was a really emotional day for me and a few other soldiers that were with me. there was a little afghan girl at the age of 6 that stepped on a pressure plate IED today and the afghan police brought her to us as fast as they could. we brought her back to our compound to give her first aid and care for her. pretty much the entire right side of her body was blown off and she lost her right arm. we tried to care for her as much as we could but we couldnt save her...she ended up dying on the operating table when we tried to stabalize her and wait for the medevac helicopter to come in and pick her up. i cant describe how i feel right now but i could just about throw up right now. just pray for me please and pray for the family of that little girl.
thanks dad, love you

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Conversation on Rape and Abortion [SK]

Could it get any better? An exit-row seat near the back of the 757 meant 10 feet of legroom to go with a good book, right? 

The legroom was awesome. But there would be no stretching out to read on this flight. To my left was a vacationing couple (early 50s), complete with their cruise-line hats and shirts. He was mellow. But she was a nervous flyer. Her husband warned me up front: “She will talk you to death.”

That she did. It didn’t help that I boarded the plane carrying (rather than stowing) Chris Kaczor’s excellent book The Ethics of Abortion. Seizing on the title, she was off to the races. One of her early comments went like this: “So you speak on abortion? Interesting. I'm not for abortion, but I just can't see how anyone could tell a woman who is raped that it’s wrong to have one. That makes absolutely no sense to me.”

Figuring my anticipated read from Kaczor's book was not forthcoming, I engaged using a tactic borrowed from Doug Wilson:

“Tell me, when rape results in pregnancy, how many humans do you think are involved in that pregnancy—two or three?”

“Two…no, three [turning to her husband], three, right? Ya, three.”

“I agree. Let’s talk about each one. Is the rapist guilty and does he deserved to be punished?”

“Yes, totally.”

“Agreed. Should we execute him for the rape?”

“No! I’m against the death penalty. He should be in jail for a long time, maybe forever.” (Husband jumps in with a smile: “Honey, stop now. This isn’t going to end well for you.”)

“Is the woman guilty? Should we execute her for the rape?”

“Of course not! That’s terrible! That’s what those Muslim countries do—what do they call those things, honor killings?—where the woman gets raped and her husband or father kills her because she’s defiled the family name. That just plain evil.”

“Agreed. Now what about her unborn offspring, is he guilty?”


“So of the three people involved in the pregnancy resulting from rape, you won’t execute the guilty rapist but you will execute the innocent child?”

[Husband nodding, immediately grasping my point]

"Oh. Let me think about this for a minute..."

We had a fruitful conversation from that point forward. I didn't convince her on the spot, but perhaps I gave her something to think about. As Dennis Prager points out, clarity is preferable to agreement.

Friday, March 8, 2013

LTI Q & A #2: Abortion is Self-Defense [Jay Watts]

I recently received this question via e-mail and decided to share my response on the blog. Here is the original message:


I recently engaged in an online discussion where one of the commenters said, "I actually think a fetus is at least becoming human, although it hasn't quite gotten there yet, but I support abortion as self-defense. Any thing that threatens a woman's life, happiness, health, finances, and general well-being is something she can choose to defend herself against.  I am wondering how you would respond to this objection/argument.  Thank you all for what you're doing!  I've learned a lot from Mr. K and others!


This is a tough argument, but not because the substance of the claims are particularly sophisticated. The problem is the arguer is confused about what they are arguing and this commonly leads to confusion in the audience. This is something that we really need to look out for, because in the world of on-line arguing (a world I try hard to avoid) failure to respond immediately is understood as an indication that a comment has some intellectual force.

Here is a good way to begin. Let's ask ourselves questions. How is this person justifying abortion? Why do they think it is a good thing or minimally a necessary thing?

This commenter thinks that abortion is justified as self-defense. This justification is generally a form of the principle of double effect. Defending oneself from an unjustified or unprovoked attack is a good action. If you defend yourself intending to defend yourself and an intrinsically valuable human being dies as a result – because they were attacking you and your defense required killing them – then the act of causing the death of the attacker is justified because you did not intend to do evil. Your intention was to stop or limit evil and the death was a result of the good intentions. The killing was not the purpose of the action. You meant to save yourself and your attacker got killed in the process.

But this is weird. Self defense is a justification. The commenter begins by saying that they believe that the unborn aren't human yet. So if the unborn are not human then why justify your actions toward them at all. Killing non-human life doesn't appear to be the kind of action that requires a system of justification intended to provide moral reasons for killing an attacker. If the unborn are not human then no need for this extra step. The justification is that they are not human in the same way that you and I are and that's that.

Let's give our arguer the benefit of the doubt, though. They actually believe that the unborn are human beings and appeal to self-defense. This argument sounds reasonable enough because it appeals to a commonly held intuition. If a person intended to do me harm or intruded into my house then many people agree I am justified in taking action to protect myself that may end in the death of the aggressor.

But the commenter applies standards that might not be so obviously true by intuition, right? Life? Absolutely. Happiness? So would she be justified in killing a boyfriend in the process of breaking up with her? Do we permit lethal action when our happiness is threatened? If so there some people who talk in movies that are in for a surprise the next time I go to a theater. Health? To what degree? Some lady pushing a whooping cough little kid in the grocery store is threatening my health. The coughing and feverish fellow on MARTA who went to the Falcon's game when he should have stayed home with the flu is threatening the health of us all. Do we condone lethal action in those cases? Flu can be fatal, so this is not trivial. In the last 30 years 3,000 to 52,000 people in the United States die from flu every year with more recent averages being in the 25,000 to 36,000 range. Are inconsiderate people fighting through their symptoms to expose us all a threat we can terminate? Finances? So the guy that is better at my job than me threatens my financial security and I want to rid myself of this threat. Kill him or no? The two year old that got sick at the wrong time threatens the finances of the single mother and her two older children. Kill her? If not, why not? General well being? That is so vague as to mean anything inconvenient. The power of the argument is that most people accept the principle already, but the application here is so broad as to put anyone a woman encounters on any given day at risk of being killed as an aggressor.

Let's look at the traditional self defense model. Is the unborn analogous to a dangerous aggressor? Is it trying to hurt the mother? No. The mother's body and the unborn are working in concert to create a safe environment for the nascent human life to develop and receive nourishment. Most pregnancies do not represent an immediate threat to women. The properly working reproductive system is working in accordance with it's purpose and not being invaded by a parasite or foreign pathogen. Unlike the home invader, the unborn is exactly where it is supposed to be given the predictable and understood developmental process that all human life goes through. Except in the cases of rape, the unborn is not only where it is supposed to be but is there as a direct result of the actions of the woman. This seems wildly different in nature than the kind of aggressor that we accept can be killed by our common intuitions.

So how would I handle this commenter? I would point out that they seem to be confusing their arguments. If they think the unborn aren't human in morally important ways then they need to argue why that is. If they think that women are justified in taking morally important life because that life is analogous to a dangerous aggressor then they need to defend two points: (1) their insanely broad concept of behaviors that justify killing human life and (2) how a life that is exactly where it ought to be in a natural physical relationship that is not - under normal circumstances – dangerous or threatening is comparable to home invaders, assaulters, and attempted murderers.

Hope that helps.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Random Thoughts on Saying Goodbye to Benedict as a Protestant [Jay Watts]

The other day my 10 year-old son asked me who Pope Benedict was and why it was a big deal he was retiring. After admonishing myself about not talking to my children about this, we discussed the ideals, principles, beliefs, and moral convictions that Protestants and Catholics share while emphasizing the need for charity in our areas of disagreement. Afterward I asked him, “So where did you hear about Pope Benedict, anyway?”

His response shocked me. “Well it's been on the news and the radio a lot, but mostly I've heard you talking about him.” I thought about the last couple of weeks and realized he was right. Pope Benedict stepping down impacted me emotionally and spiritually in ways that I failed to recognize but that my son clearly noticed. Pope Benedict spoke with grace, dignity, and strength to moral issues that concern me in the same way they concern him and that agreement fostered the comfort that those of us who share those concerns had a great ally in him. I am sad.

A friend recently expressed similar feelings on-line and was chastised by a commenter that understood the celebration of those common purposes as politically motivated and therefore (1) driving a further wedge between politically liberal Christians and those of us who – in their mind - equate politically right leaning agendas with Christian agendas and (2) is somehow indicative of a too narrow focus on the part of those who supposedly see abortion and gay marriage as the defining issues for politically active Christians.

It is a little perplexing when Christian critics hammer people like me for being insensitive and focused on abortion to the exclusion of other issues and then - in a moment of complete lack of self awareness - proclaim that unlike me they care about all sorts of other things. Unlike me and the monstrously obsessed and divisive conservative evangelicals like me, they care about war and sex slaves and poverty and are charitable to people that disagree with them. After all, I presumably support war mongering, pro sex slavery, poverty loving policies because of my callous focus on abortion.

Scott covered the difference between contingent evils and intrinsic evils (see here, here, and here), but even given a greater understanding in how we process the moral differences between actions like taking innocent life in abortion, taking innocent life in war, and taking life in capital punishment it is decidedly uncharitable to see another's efforts in one area as evidence of their lack of humane concern in other areas.

Lets take differing views on war as an example, though we could just as easily look at poverty or capital punishment. My personal views on war have changed more than once over the years. As an atheist, I tended toward a total war mentality. Early in my Christian walk I leaned more toward pacifism than I do now. Then (1) a consideration of Just War Theories and (2) a real concern about what kind of armies would wage wars if properly functioning moral people abstained entirely from warfare moved me away from pacifism. I am not pro-war by any stretch of the imagination, but the issue appears far more morally complex than some others seem to believe.

A passionate young man with absolute views recently told me that any military intervention on foreign soil is immoral even in cases of genocide. “You will never stop the killing, no matter what you do.”

I pointed out Lt. General Rome'o Dallaire's book Shake Hands with the Devil about his experiences in Rwanda. A Canadian commander of UN forces states that if he could have simply re-tasked the military presence assigned for evacuation to peace keeping efforts he possibly could have stopped the killing that ended with 800,000 human lives being taken in 100 days. He wasn't advocating fighting a war but merely being there to deter mass murder till the situation could be stabilized. I then asked him to consider Samantha Power's book A Problem from Hell on genocide in the 20th century and how the U.S. responds to it. Whatever your view of Ms. Power's politics, it is difficult to read that book and walk away with anything other than the impression that how to use our military in the face of great evil is NOT a cut and dried issue.

There is no obvious moral superiority in stating that one is more anti-war than others without a serious discussion about what you mean when you say that. I hate war as do my friends whose sons and daughters are in harms way. We just recognize that we hate other things worse than war. There is an argument to be had – in the best since of that word – but to declare one side superior to the other by nature prior to the argument is question begging at its worst. And assuming that a person focusing their efforts on one area is thoughtless toward other issues is simply wrongheaded. 

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman draws out distinctions between functional information – information “tied to the problems and decisions readers had to address in order to manage their personal and community affairs” and non-actionable information that became available to us originally through telegraphy and ultimately now available in massive quantities through world wide media and internet service. He argues in the following excerpt that this new glut of information evokes powerful emotional responses in us toward information that we can't really take meaningful action on in our lives:

“You may get a sense of what this means by asking yourselves another series of questions: What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha'is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you: you plan to do nothing about them.”

This inability to take meaningful action is not a by product of lack of concern. Most people simply cannot do anything in their daily lives to impact issues of this magnitude. In this light, we are all faced with the task of sorting out what Postman calls the “information action ratio” when learning about evils. I cannot stop sex slavery. I cannot stop war. I cannot stop poverty. In my adult life I have never kidded myself that my voting for an elected official would greatly curtail these types of evils. Both Democrats and Republicans wage wars. Both Democrats and Republicans hate poverty and sex slavery, though they may differ in how to legislatively deal with the former.

Here is where I may be crazy. I think that we can impact abortion. I believe information on abortion is functional information and that educating people in our community about what abortion is, how we identify unborn human life, and what our moral responsibilities are to other people can change how our community behaves. Beautiful little hands of lives that were spared have often grabbed my fingers while their grateful mothers shared stories about the people that cared enough to reach out to them before they did something out of fear they would regret forever. It doesn't get more immediate or real than that.

I also believe that equipping people to understand their Christian worldview and to rationally, logically, and graciously explain and defend their beliefs to others helps the community. Both of these goals are meaningful to my life, I act on them daily, and see those actions produce results.

By necessity we must engage in the political process to achieve goals and it is obvious to all reasonable people that in this area the political parties are not equally committed to the same principles. Whatever the individual beliefs of those who comprise the parties, one party sees as a good to be preserved what another party sees as an evil to be curtailed.

What does all of this have to do with my being sad about the retirement of Pope Benedict? Those of us who share the conviction that abortion is a great evil and that the Christian worldview is both defensible and important to our world community are losing a great ally. Pope Benedict is a bold and outspoken ally. In an age dominated by what he termed the tyranny of relativism that often angrily shouts down dissent that is no small thing. His position offered a greater platform to meaningfully impact major issues than most people will ever enjoy, and he used that platform to express heartfelt and rationally defensible positions that often matched my own.

If you confuse the affection this fact evokes from Protestants cooperating in an effort driven by the mutual convictions on what is good and right and noble as political posturing that unnecessarily excludes left leaning Christians then it might not be me who is too politically minded.