Archive for April, 2011
Saturday, April 30th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 29 Comments
A few days ago, David Wilkerson, one of the giants of evangelical Christianity, was killed in a car accident in eastern Texas. Wilkerson first came to fame for his book The Cross and the Switchblade in which he recounted his ministry to drug addicts and gang members in New York City in the 1960′s as well as the beginnings of Teen Challenge.
Wilkerson also founded Times Square Church back when Times Square was a dump. And he seems to have been an utterly fearless preacher. Frank Lockwood reprints a Wilkerson sermon that eviscerates the Prosperity Gospel and its adherents. And Wilkerson didn’t content himself with merely destroying the concept. He named names.
Read the whole thing.
Friday, April 29th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 13 Comments
OutSTANDing strategy, “Think” “Progress.” Gloat about deaths:
Dozens of massive tornadoes tore a town-flattening streak across the South, killing at least 250 people in six states and forcing rescuers to carry some survivors out on makeshift stretchers of splintered debris. Two of Alabama’s major cities were among the places devastated by the deadliest twister outbreak in nearly 40 years.
The congressional delegations of these states — Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, and Kentucky — overwhelmingly voted to reject the science that polluting the climate is dangerous. They are deliberately ignoring the warnings from scientists.
Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 63 Comments
Citing what he called threats from the Rev. Michael Pfleger to leave the church, Cardinal Francis George has removed the outspoken priest from St. Sabina parish and has suspended his “sacramental faculties as a priest.”
Pfleger had publicly feuded with the cardinal about possibly being reassigned to Leo High School, telling a radio show recently that he would look outside the Catholic church if offered no other choice.
“If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and are therefore not able to pastor a Catholic parish,” George wrote in a letter dated today.
“A Catholic priest’s inner life is governed by his promises, motivated by faith and love, to live chastely as a celibate man and to obey his bishop,” the cardinal continued. “Breaking either promise destroys his vocation and wounds the Church.
“With this letter, your ministry as pastor of Saint Sabina Parish and your sacramental faculties as a priest of the Archdiocese are suspended.”
Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 20 Comments
Dear LORD, it’s embarrassing when leftists, Christian and non-Christian, try to recruit Our Lord for their political causes. Case in point: MSNBC’S Lawrence O’Donnell:
“The New Testament does have an answer to Rush’s question, ‘What would Jesus take?’ and it’s not one Rush is going to like,” O’Donnell began, adding smugly, “And since he obviously has no working command of the Bible, it will surely shock him because he will be hearing it now for the first time.”
“The answer is everything, not 35 percent, not 39.6 percent. One hundred percent,” O’Donnell continued, referring to marginal tax rates for top income-bracket earners, citing as his proof text a passage from Mark 10 in which a rich man comes up to Jesus and asks “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
O’Donnell then selectively edited Jesus’s answer:
Go and sell all your possession and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…
“It seems very clear that Jesus would be cool with a 39.6 tax bracket for those making over $250,000,” O’Donnell concluded from the text.
Well, it was as if Jesus was talking to Rush. As the story continues in the gospel according to St. Mark, “…but at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to his disciples, How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
You get the idea. Probably took your staff all day to dig those up, didn’t it, Larry? But here’s the thing. Jesus doesn’t take anything, idiot. We are, indeed, supposed to give up all and follow Him, words you conveniently left out. And that’s all of us, Your Eminence, “rich” and “poor” alike.
Oh and Larry? Ever hear the one about the talents?
For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, “Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
Chew on that one awhile, Your Eminence.
Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 5 Comments
Nebraska Democratic Senator Ben Nelson’s reelection prospects are not looking too encouraging right about now:
The last time Sen. Ben Nelson ran for re-election, in 2006, Democrats held four of the six Senate seats representing the 650 miles of plains from Nebraska north to the Canadian border.
If the Nebraska senator’s political fortunes don’t change, soon there will be just one.
As Nelson quietly prepares for his 2012 re-election campaign, he is doing so in a region that is trending away from him. As recently as 2004, the Great Plains wasn’t just a place where Democrats could win—it was a power center, led by then Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Today, the region is tilting toward the GOP.
Republicans have taken control of two Senate seats and two House seats long held by Democrats and solidified statehouse majorities. Another seat is likely to be on the way in 2012, after North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad announced he wouldn’t seek re-election earlier this year. That would leave just two Democrats in the Plains: South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, who is up for re-election in 2014, and Nelson.
Polls have shown Nelson struggling. Some have had him down as many as 10 points to prospective opponents. Even his supporters say he’s in a tough spot.
Call it the Cornhusker Kickout.
Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 6 Comments
The man who helped calm the nervous butterflies in many a public speaker, inventor of the teleprompter Hubert Schlafly Jr., died in Connecticut April 20. He was 91.
Schlafly revolutionized the political and television landscape by allowing public speakers to face the camera and appear as though they were speaking from memory.
According to White House insiders, Barack Obama was said to be “at a loss for words.” Thanks to Fark for that joke.
Monday, April 25th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 39 Comments
Jim Naughton’s not a-scared a the Ordinariate:
Up to 900 Anglicans, including 60 clergy, are preparing to be received into the Roman Catholic faith in special services during Holy Week.
You read that correctly 900 people.
The British press continues to cover the development of the Ordinariate as though each person who leaves the Church of England for Rome deserves his or her own personal news story. But in the normal course of things, much larger numbers of people go back and forth between denominations all of the time. I am guessing that within the last five years at least 900 people have left the Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church in the handful of dioceses within a three hours drive of my house in Maryland.
In the last five years, nine hundred Catholics became Episcopalians in just your immediate neighborhood? I seriously doubt that, big smacker. But you’re missing something, Jim.
In England, at least 900 people have abandoned the Anglican religion in the space of a few months. That number’s only going to go higher. And they’ve left a “church” that hardly anyone attends anymore as it is.
For his part, the Bishop of Guildford is glad all those folks left or will be leaving since it will allow the C of E to peacefully resume not influencing Great Britain in any meaningful way.
The Right Rev Christopher Hill said congregations losing clergy or laity to the Personal Ordinariate, a Vatican initiative allowing Anglicans to convert while keeping elements of their spiritual heritage, would allow the church to move on after being “racked” by the issue of women priests.
“Where a decision has been made then those who go will have a bigger agenda, as do those who stay. They can leave this issue alone. It has racked these congregations. It has absorbed a lot of energy. Where a church has had such an exodus, there will be a sigh of relief that a decision has been made.”
Always look on the bright side, Your Grace.
Monday, April 25th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 24 Comments
Does the Episcopal Diocese of Newark actually have…standards?
Don’t call him Father Jim just yet.
Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey — who shocked the nation in 2004 when he announced he was a “gay American” and stepped down from office — has been denied his bid to join the priesthood of the Episcopal Church, The Post has learned.
Church leaders, who have long embraced gay parishioners and clergy, were bothered by McGreevey’s bitter divorce, sources told The Post.
“It was not being gay but for being a jackass — [McGreevey] didn’t come out of the whole divorce looking good,” said a source with the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.
Some leaders also were wary of McGreevey’s sudden embrace of their faith after his scandal and feared the church was being used, the source added.
Three points. This is the same church that made a bishop out of twice-divorced and thrice-married Barry “Third Time’s the Charm” Beisner. A “sudden embrace” of the Episcopal religion doesn’t seem to have hurt Alberto Cutié any. And if being a jackass disqualifies someone from joining the Episcopalian clergy, John Shelby Spong would have made his living selling used cars.
Besides, Jimmy Mac’s not been permanently turned down, only delayed a while.
Multiple sources noted that it’s very common for first-time aspirants to be told they need to continue with their studies or charitable work before being allowed to join the clergy.
So I imagine he’ll get a slot eventually. This is Newark, after all.
Monday, April 25th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 25 Comments
Shakespeare’s plays, Einstein’s theories — and porn queen Jenna Jameson’s steamy online sexcapades.
New Yorkers can take their pick at the city’s public libraries, thanks to a policy that gives adults the most uncensored access to extreme, hard-core Internet smut this side of the old Times Square.
The electronic smut falls under the heading of free speech and the protection of the First Amendment, library officials say.
“Customers can watch whatever they want on the computer,” said Brooklyn Public Library spokeswoman Malika Granville, describing the anything-goes philosophy that’s the rule at the city’s 200-plus branches.
“What they’re doing is publicly funding an appetite for the most debased fare available,” said Catholic League President Bill Donohue. “It’s not like a Playboy centerfold anymore — it’s far worse.”
Library patron Daisy Nazario, 60, said she was grossed out when she discovered she was sitting next to an elderly porn watcher in the Brooklyn Central Library recently.
The looker was using library-provided extensions on the sides of his computer to block the view of his screen — which was featuring a threesome at the time — “but I could still hear the voices,” a disgusted Nazario said.
Donahue is quite right. When folks realize that they’re paying for this crap, they will, at some point, stop paying for this crap. As well as the institution that freely provides it.
Then there’s the kids. I have heard of and seen men in libraries who were, shall we say, more than a little excited by the porn they were watching on library computers. Would a story hour, a picture book or a DVD be worth the risk of having to explain to your kids what that man over there is doing?
Then there’s the staff. For my part, I could take some deviant coming to the reference desk and asking me to unfreeze his computer so he can continue watching hard core porn exactly one time before whatever motivation I still have to keep on doing this job would be completely and forever gone.
Sunday, April 24th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 25 Comments
Andrew Sullivan hits bottom, keeps digging, strikes bedrock and dynamites his way through to molten lava:
What Wonkette published about a completely innocent little boy was, as I said as soon as I absorbed it, despicable.
To mock him, the most defenseless figure in this whole saga, is just foul. I’ve made my position on this question very very clear from the beginning. The only person who truly deserves protection from this media mayhem is Trig himself.
Sully then gets off what might be the single most insincere “compliment” I have ever read in my entire life.
Whatever may be the truth behind all the Palin pregnancy stories, even if the zaniest theory is true,
Like the ones you’ve been pushing for the last three years?
Sarah Palin is taking care of a child with Down Syndrome who deserves respect and privacy even if his own mother refuses to give them to him.
“A” child. Sully hasn’t seen the paperwork yet so he’s not jumping to any conclusions. And I guess letting other people see you display affection toward your child in public constitutes not giving your child “respect and privacy.”
I deeply admire and respect Palin for doing what she has done in giving this child a home and a life.
No you don’t, freakshow. Cuz if you did, you wouldn’t have used the phrase “this child.” You would have said “her child.” Trig’s not some kind of exotic pet that the Palins decided to buy, Sully.
And women in this country didn’t used to have to prove that their children were their own to the satisfaction of hostile British gay “conservatives.” Cut back on the ganja, Sully.
But the blowback has not just been rhetorical. It has been to bring the entire site to its knees. The buycott of Wonkette’s advertisers has led to almost all of them fleeing immediately.
I feel as queasy about this flexing of Palinite muscle
Really, Sully? You think that Sarah Palin sent out some of her mind control rays or something?
as I do about the original, disgusting, asinine story. In some ways, I see a legitimate come-uppance for a tacky site that published a simply inexcusable piece of mean-spirited dreck using a child who cannot defend himself, treating him as if he were subhuman, which he most definitely isn’t.
Insert “but” here.
But I also recoil from mob action like this, for the impact it has on fearless free speech and the chilling effect it will have on an already cowed and defensive MSM when covering the truly tough stuff about Palin.
And there you have it. Bitchette shouldn’t have run that piece but advertisers shouldn’t have bailed on them for running it. “Fearless free speech” demands that repulsive attacks on three-year-olds with Down Syndrome should be allowed to see the light of day. Because if they’re suppressed because some advertiser has a conscience, it will have a “chilling effect” on the mainstream media when covering the “truly tough stuff” about Sarah Palin.
Whatever. Give it a rest, limey.
Friday, April 22nd, 2011 | Uncategorized | 33 Comments
I’d post something but the St. Louis area is being hit with a fierce storm right now, much worse than the one a few days ago. Massive amounts of hail and three tornado sirens in the last hour and a half or so. So far, Webster Groves hasn’t seen much but we’re not done with this system yet.
UPDATE: Here are photos of some of the damage.
UPDATE: A Good Friday miracle? So far, there have been no reports of deaths or even serious injuries.
Friday, April 22nd, 2011 | Uncategorized | 23 Comments
Hide the women and children. Rowan Williams is thinking out loud again:
Which makes you wonder…What about having a new law that made all cabinet members and leaders of political parties, editors of national papers and the hundred most successful financiers in the UK, spend a couple of hours every year serving dinners in a primary school on a council estate? Or cleaning bathrooms in a residential home? Walking around the streets of a busy town at night as a street pastor, ready to pick up and absorb something of the chaos and human mess you’ll find there especially among young people?
I’ve no doubt some of our public figures do this sort of thing privately, and good for them. But maybe having to do it, to do it in public and not to be able to make any sort of capital out of it because they had no choice – ? It might do two things, reminding our leaders of what the needs really are at grass roots level, so that those needs can never again be just remote statistics; and reminding the rest of us what politics and government are really for.
Well, perhaps that’s just a nice fantasy to mull over during the holiday weekend. But as we watch the Queen honouring some of her subjects today, it’s worth remembering this startling idea that the goal of the supreme power in the universe is that we should be nurtured, respected and loved. What does that say – to monarchs, politicians, tycoons and, yes, Archbishops too – about how we understand and use the power we have?
“A nice fantasy?” Actually, that’s the dumbest thing my gracious lord of Canterbury has said, well, since the last time he said something. Forcing “the powerful,” however the government chooses to define that term, to do some good work will communicate absolutely nothing whatsoever about “what politics and government are really for” other than the fact that might makes right.
It will communicate that anyone who has attained a certain level of achievement in their lives did so only because they were “privileged.” And it suggests that all of “the poor” are only poor because of circumstances entirely beyond their control.
Granted, we Christians shouldn’t make distinctions. We are to help the poor whether they’re poor because they were born in a desperately poor place or poor because they spent high school lighting up blunts every night and now can’t keep any job, no matter how menial, for very long.
But mandatory, government-mandated, “good works” are not good works at all any more than taxes can be counted as charitable contributions. Genuine works of charity are works you want to do, not works you are forced to do.
Thursday, April 21st, 2011 | Uncategorized | 47 Comments
Christmas and Easter have each developed the same longstanding tradition. The run-up to these two holidays always produces television documentaries, magazine articles and learned treatises purporting to tell us what really happened at Bethlehem or on Golgotha and what it all means(since everyone has gotten it wrong up to now).
I’ve already dealt with one example here while Dale Price elegantly destroys another one here(do not miss Dale’s take; when my man is on his game, there is nobody better in the world at whatever this stuff is).
Here’s another. At the National Catholic Reporter, Jamie Manson doesn’t want to know what happened on Good Friday as much as she wants to know why it happened:
I’ve had more than one Catholic who grew up either before or on the cusp of Vatican II tell me horror stories of how they were taught that Jesus died because of their sins.
“Horror stories of how they were taught that Jesus died because of their sins.” I think you already know where Ms. Manson is going with this.
This was a particularly heavy-handed way for priests and nuns to lay an even thicker coat of guilt on impressionable Catholic school children. Because they were sinners, Jesus had to suffer and die to redeem them. It was one rendering of the traditional theological interpretations of the crucifixion — that Jesus had to die to fulfill the Scriptures and that his death atoned for the sins of the world.
Get ready for the customary condescending pat on the head.
I know that countless people throughout the centuries have found profound, life-changing and even comforting meaning in this understanding of the Cross.
Since Ms. Manson has much more important fish to fry(see what I did there?), she’ll let the rest of you have your little legend.
But I’ve often felt that if we immerse ourselves in the accounts of Jesus’ arrest, passion, and death as told by the four Gospels, these texts can broaden and deepen our understanding of the crucifixion.
I don’t know how much deeper one needs to go than getting one’s sins taken care of so that one can go home to the Father.
It can help us make meaning of so much of the anguish that we witness in our world and in our church.
I stand corrected. Jesus died the most horribly agonizing death that it is possible to imagine in order to “help us make meaning of so much of the anguish that we witness in our world and in our church.” Got it.
Me, I’ve never ever been able to “make meaning” of diseases, wars, genocides, famines, earthquakes, tsunamis and other tragedies with their attendant human suffering. I guess I’m not trying hard enough.
When I read the passion narratives of the Gospels, I don’t hear simply that Jesus suffered and died for our sins. Rather, I hear the four evangelists very clearly say that Jesus’ suffering and death was the will of those who conspired against him — those whose political systems he had undermined, those whose religious convictions he had offended.
Glad we’ve finally cleared that up. Neither Romans nor Jews killed Christ. It was the Republican Party and the religious Right.
Jesus’ death may have been the will of God, but it was also the will of both powerful people and ordinary people who preferred unquestioning loyalty to rigid, oppressive political and religious regimes to the profound challenges of God incarnate.
You thought I was kidding before, didn’t you? But God incarnate? Wow. Does Jamie actually believe that Jesus was the incarnate Son of the Living God? Not so much, no.
Jesus was the embodiment of all those things we should equate with God: love and justice, care and compassion, creation and creativity, transformation and wholeness.
God doesn’t merely display “love and justice, care and compassion, creation and creativity, transformation and wholeness,” He should be equated with them. In other words, God is love. And love is God.
Jesus was the embodiment of all good and healing things that we experience in this life on this earth, and Jesus taught us the ways to experience this fullness [of] God’s presence more and more abundantly: by healing afflictions, by offering community to those banished by religions and societies, by inviting us to his table when no one else seemed to know we existed.
And that’s why they killed Him? Simply because He hung out with lowlifes?
Unfortunately, Jesus’ convictions about the ways to bring God’s presence more fully into the world shattered traditional religious practices and cultural conventions.
Folks, we are getting into some deep Episcopalianism here.
Though some thought having the fullness of life meant having socio-economic power, Jesus — God-incarnate — said it meant sitting at the table with the dregs of society. Though some thought experiencing holiness meant being acceptable in the eyes of religious authorities, Jesus said it meant being constantly judged and ostracized by those in religious power. Though many were told that experiencing God meant obeying laws and practicing empty rituals, Jesus told them that encountering God happens when we feed those who hunger, welcome the estranged, shelter the vulnerable, and visit the lonely.
Granted. But I don’t know whether you’ve noticed this or not, Jamie, but those are not the sorts of things that human beings naturally go out of their way to do.
If there’s an atheist-sponsored food bank or homeless shelter in the world, I’m not aware of it. Most Christians do all those things because of our gratitude to the One who loved us enough to die for our sins on the Cross.
Because that is who God is: love, justice, integrity, comfort, peace. Any time we experience these things, we experience God. And, therefore, any time these God-experiences are violated or snuffed out, we experience a death of God — a microcosmic manifestation of the crucifixion in our time.
And any time a bell rings, a NatCatRep writer gets his wings. Where are you going with this, Jamie?
The crucifixion tells on a grand scale the smaller-scale deaths of God that occur every minute of every day throughout the world. In the Gospel stories, God, in the person of Jesus, is being wounded, abused, neglected, and killed. And this idea, I believe, couldn’t be more relevant and more meaningful to us today in a world ruptured by violence, poverty, and greed, and in a church beleaguered by self-alienation, intolerance, and excommunications.
The Crucifixion as performance art? Jesus was scourged to within an inch of his life, had nails driven through his wrists and feet, spent hours slowly suffocating to death and eventually died merely so that people would be nicer to each other?
Seems a little, oh, I don’t know…excessive? I don’t see how you got from Point A to Point B but I don’t have a Master’s from Yale Divinity. So there you are.
Whenever we harm ourselves or deny our own goodness, we wound God.
There goes the whole “dying for the sins of the world” business.
Whenever we allow religious institutions to rob us of our dignity as unconditionally beloved children of God, God is put into a prison and degraded.
So stop saying that homosexual activity is a sin. Ordain some women, misogynists! And make a few of ‘em bishops. Chop, chop!!
Whenever we deny love or compassion to someone in need, or allow injustice to prosper, we deny God.
You getting all this down, Paul Ryan?
Whenever a creation of God suffers at the hands of greed, or the abuse of power, or hatred or fear, God is abused. Whenever a creation is killed, whether through our continued ravaging of the earth or through atrocities like genocide and war, God is crucified.
Up top there, Jamie said, “Jesus was the embodiment of all those things we should equate with God: love and justice, care and compassion, creation and creativity, transformation and wholeness.”
So I guess when she says that “God is wounded, degraded, denied, abused or killed, what she means is that every time we do one of these bad things, “love and justice, care and compassion, creation and creativity, transformation and wholeness” is wounded, degraded, denied, abused or killed. And that doesn’t make a lick of sense.
For a brief time, God had a body on this earth in the person of Jesus.
Nice of you to admit that. But to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, I don’t think that means what you think it means.
But that doesn’t mean that God’s body does not continue to work on this earth, seeking and yearning to bring God’s presence — love, justice, and compassion — more fully alive in all of creation in order to stop the crucifixions, the on-going and never-ending deaths of God.
Give it up for the Jesus-was-a-great-teacher-and-nothing-more pseudo-Gospel. To Manson, God is a system of ethics, Jesus is this real cool philosophy professor you had at State and Christianity is one long college-level philosophy class with free snacks.
Look. I’m not saying that all those things aren’t important. I am saying that a system of ethics, no matter how exalted it might be, is not, by itself, going to move men and women to do much of anything noble.
Nobody ever read the Nicomachean Ethics, built a movement around it and swept all before them. However, a small group of first-century Jews changed the whole world. But they didn’t do it, couldn’t have done it, simply because Jesus’ preaching was so revolutionary and his ethics was so sublime.
They did it because of what they saw on Good Friday.
And Who they saw on Easter.
Think of it this way. Sacrificing something of yourself for the sake of others is hard. But once you realize how infinitely much God sacrificed for your sake on the Cross, sacrificing for others becomes the easiest thing in the world.
Thursday, April 21st, 2011 | Uncategorized | 18 Comments
You know all that real estate that we’re currently suing reactionary Nazi Klan traditionalist Anglicans out of, says Katharine Jefferts Schori. Turns out that we’re probably not even going to need most of it:
Although the two churches battled over property in court, Jefferts Schori said she forsees a day when churches will become something different.
“More faith communities will decide not to have a permanent dedicated structure in the coming years,” she said. “They can be a blessing if they are used all the time, but many of them are only used on Sunday mornings. Is that an effective use of the resource?”
Some churches do hold services in other buildings or in homes.
I should think it would make it hard to protect the legacy of Episcopalians of the past if some parish becomes a restaurant, a bar or a coffee house. Or a mosque. But I’m not an Episcopalian anymore so I can no longer pretend that it’s possible to hold two contradictory thoughts in my head at the same time.
Thursday, April 21st, 2011 | Uncategorized | 25 Comments
Peter Singer, Princeton University professor of bioethics, on disabled infants:
In Chapter 4 we saw that the fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings. This conclusion is not limited to infants who, because of irreversible intellectual disabilities, will never be rational, self-conscious beings. We saw in our discussion of abortion that the potential of a fetus to become a rational, self-conscious being cannot count against killing it at a stage when it lacks these characteristics – not, that is, unless we are also prepared to count the value of rational self-conscious life as a reason against contraception and celibacy. No infant – disabled or not – has as strong a claim to life as beings capable of seeing themselves as distinct entities, existing over time.
The difference between killing disabled and normal infants lies not in any supposed right to life that the latter has and the former lacks, but in other considerations about killing. Most obviously there is the difference that often exists in the attitudes of the parents. The birth of a child is usually a happy event for the parents. They have, nowadays, often planned for the child. The mother has carried it for nine months. From birth, a natural affection begins to bind the parents to it. So one important reason why it is normally a terrible thing to kill an infant is the effect the killing will have on its parents.
Parents may, with good reason, regret that a disabled child was ever born. In that event the effect that the death of the child will have on its parents can be a reason for, rather than against killing it. Some parents want even the most gravely disabled infant to live as long as possible, and this desire would then be a reason against killing the infant. But what if this is not the case? in the discussion that follows I shall assume that the parents do not want the disabled child to live. I shall also assume that the disability is so serious that – again in contrast to the situation of an unwanted but normal child today – there are no other couples keen to adopt the infant. This is a realistic assumption even in a society in which there is a long waiting- list of couples wishing to adopt normal babies. It is true that from time to time cases of infants who are severely disabled and are being allowed to die have reached the courts in a glare of publicity, and this has led to couples offering to adopt the child. Unfortunately such offers are the product of the highly publicised dramatic life-and-death situation, and do not extend to the less publicised but far more cormnon situations in which parents feel themselves unable to look after a severely disabled child, and the child then languishes in an institution.
Infants are sentient beings who are neither rational nor self- conscious. So if we turn to consider the infants in themselves, independently of the attitudes of their parents, since their species is not relevant to their moral status, the principles that govern the wrongness of killing non-human animals who are sentient but not rational or self-conscious must apply here too. As we saw, the most plausible arguments for attributing a right to life to a being apply only if there is some awareness of oneself as a being existing over time, or as a continuing mental self. Nor can respect for autonomy apply where there is no capacity for autonomy. The remaining principles identified in Chapter 4 are utilitarian. Hence the quality of life that the infant can be expected to have is important.
When the life of an infant will be so miserable as not to be worth living, from the internal perspective of the being who will lead that life, both the ‘prior existence’ and the ‘total’ version of utilitarianism entail that, if there are no ‘extrinsic’ reasons for keeping the infant alive – like the feelings of the parents – it is better that the child should be helped to die without further suffering. A more difficult problem arises – and the convergence between the two views ends – when we consider disabilities that make the child’s life prospects significantly less promising than those of a normal child, but not so bleak as to make the child’s life not worth living.
On the ‘total’ version of utilitarianism, however, we cannot reach a decision on the basis of this information alone. The total view makes it necessary to ask whether the death of the haemophiliac infant would lead to the creation of another being who would not otherwise have existed. In other words, if the haemophiliac child is killed, will his parents have another child whom they would not have if the haemophiliac child lives? If they would, is the second child likely to have a better life than the one killed?
Often it will be possible to answer both these questions affinnatively. A woman may plan to have two children. If one dies while she is of child-bearing age, she may conceive another in its place. Suppose a woman planning to have two children has one normal child, and then gives birth to a haemophiliac child. The burden of caring for that child may make it impossible for her to cope with a third child; but if the disabled child were to die, she would have another. It is also plausible to suppose that the prospects of a happy life are better for a normal child than for a haemophiliac.
When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the haemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.
The total view treats infants as replaceable, in much the same way as it treats non-self-conscious animals (as we saw in Chapter 5). Many will think that the replaceability argument cannot be applied to human infants. The direct killing of even the most hopelessly disabled infant is still officially regarded as murder; how then could the killing of infants with far less serious problems, like haernophilia, be accepted? Yet on further reflection, the implications of the replaceability argument do not seem quite so bizarre. For there are disabled members of our species whom we now deal with exactly as the argument suggests we should. These cases closely resemble the ones we have been discussing. There is only one difference, and that is a difference of timing – the timing of the discovery of the problem, and the consequent killing of the disabled being.
Peter Singer, Princeton University professor of bioethics, on fish.
Why are we indifferent to the suffering of fish?
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