delivered 8 June 1978, Harvard University
It is feasible and easy everywhere to undermine administrative power and in fact it has been drastically weakened in all Western countries. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It’s time, in the West — It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.
Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.
On the other hand, destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society has turned out to have scarce defense against the abyss of human decadence, for example against the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. This is all considered to be part of freedom and to be counterbalanced, in theory, by the young people’s right not to look and not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.
And what shall we say about the dark realms of overt criminality? Legal limits (especially in the United States) are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also some misuse of such freedom. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency — all with the support of thousands of defenders in the society. When a government earnestly undertakes to root out terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorist’s civil rights. There is quite a number of such cases.
This tilt of freedom toward evil has come about gradually, but it evidently stems from a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which man — the master of the world — does not bear any evil within himself, and all the defects of life are caused by misguided social systems, which must therefore be corrected. Yet strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still remains a great deal of crime; there even is considerably more of it than in the destitute and lawless Soviet society. (There is a multitude of prisoners in our camps who are termed criminals, but most of them never committed any crime; they merely tried to defend themselves against a lawless state by resorting to means outside the legal framework.)
The courage for truth, leadership, and action:
A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.
Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.
As humanism in its development became more and more materialistic, it made itself increasingly accessible to speculation and manipulation by socialism and then by communism. So that Karl Marx was able to say that “communism is naturalized humanism.”
This statement turned out not to be entirely senseless. One does see the same stones in the foundations of a despiritualized humanism and of any type of socialism: endless materialism; freedom from religion and religious responsibility, which under communist regimes reach the stage of anti-religious dictatorships; concentration on social structures with a seemingly scientific approach. This is typical of the Enlightenment in the 18th Century and of Marxism. Not by coincidence all of communism’s meaningless pledges and oaths are about Man, with a capital M, and his earthly happiness. At first glance it seems an ugly parallel: common traits in the thinking and way of life of today’s West and today’s East? But such is the logic of materialistic development.
You can read the original speech at Harvard here.
This highlights some of the more salient part of “A World Split Apart” here.
“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
Henry David Thoreau
“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”
David Foster Wallace
“The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.”
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”
Libertarian Justifications Against Abortion: The ethical, secular, and Christian case against abortion
My Personal Viewpoint
I’m honestly **somewhat** mixed on this issue. I think that Clinton’s policy of minimizing the number of abortions that occurs is important–and certainly a good goal. I respect the issue of choice–but think that is a simplistic analysis of what may embody larger issues–and larger ethical considerations.
I say the following having never been a father, having never had to deal with these issues personally, and having never been pregnant. I don’t intend to offend, but perhaps offer an alternative perspective or way of looking at the conflict.
For the purposes of the discussion, I will define an abortion as the termination of a pregnancy after the first trimester. This seems a more morally and ethically defensible standard perhaps (the Mayo Clinic link I’ve provided below could be used to justify an earlier definition of “human”–although not grounded in typical notions of agency, but instead on human characteristics at 8 weeks even before the end of the first trimester. At a minimum, this seems to be able to trigger the animal rights parallel I point to below as well).
Rights of Choice are Checked by the Harm Principle:
Choices are constrained when another human life is at stake. This is basic Harm Principle logic. The logic of John Stuart Mill or even current day libertarians can apply here. At a minimum, this standard does say that when we know its a life from a scientific perspective there is a massive presumption that its an illegitimate rights violation to have. For instance, we use a similar standard in the context of indoor air smoking, because absolute autonomy imposes significant health risks on those around the smoker.
In line with this standard, in fact, if you accidentally kill a pregnant mother you are guilty of two deaths, not just one. Abortion simply can’t pass the harm principle–and will each passing day toward full person-hood it gets more and more philosophically difficult to make that justification.
Rights = Responsibility
Rights imply responsibility. If you can’t use a car properly and sanely, the government takes away your right to drive a car. A society in which fetus’s are terminated creates a disposable-society and consumer-mindset around human procreation–that devalues humans. Rights outside a context of community means very little, in fact community and the reciprocal nature of rights give them both their context and meaning.
It seems odd to apply an absolute autonomy standard on abortion, yet use issues which are more contextual on other issues life free speech and gun rights.
Another similar issue is application of the idea of animal rights to the fetus. In the context of other places in society, the idea of animal rights. The notion that animals have more rights in some cases than fetuses in advanced months seems out of kilter with our most basic intuitions about birth.
Empathy/Justice/Veil of Ignorance:
Empathy for the least advantaged. In the case of abortion, the aborted fetus never gets a voice or choice. Never. They aren’t ever considered more than a clump of cells.
For instance, when a couple is pregnant with a fetus, they already treat the developing baby as a human being and those around them do as well (people don’t say “my fetus” they say “my baby” and they ohh and ahh over their first
visual experience of the baby). Admittedly, this later practice is certainly more based on intuition than on at attempt to create a scientific definition of life beginning, but I think perhaps should still be part of the discussion. Re-naming something as merely a fetus, doesn’t deny that it shares the parents DNA and even features very early in the development process.
Choices and Consequences:
There are consequences to choices. If you make bad loans or write bad checks you have to deal with the consequences. You don’t get to externalize the burdens of your poor risks and decisions on other individuals.
Legalized Abortion Causes Doctors to Violate the Hippocratic Oath:
For instance, Mary Meehan in the Progresive points out, “The prohibition of abortion in the ancient Hippocratic Oath is well
known. Less familiar to many is the Oath of Geneva, formulated by the World Medical
Association in 1948, which included these words: “I will maintain the utmost respect for
human life from the time of conception.” A Declaration of the Rights of the Child,
adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1959, declared that “the child, by
reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care,
including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” Why more children’s rights advocates haven’t spoken out on this issue is indeed puzzling.
Meehan goes on to point out four key considerations on the abortion issue (I will highlight 3 of the issues):
First, it is out of character for the Left to neglect the weak and helpless. The
traditional mark of the Left has been its protection of the underdog, the weak, and the poor. The unborn child is the most helpless form of humanity, even more in need of protection than the poor tenant farmer or the mental patient or the boat people on the high seas. The basic instinct of the Left is to aid those who cannot aid themselves — and that instinct is absolutely sound. It is what keeps the human proposition going.
Second, the right to life underlies and sustains every other right we have. It is, as Thomas Jefferson and his friends said, self-evident. Logically, as well as in our Declaration of Independence, it comes before the right to liberty and the right to property. The right to exist, to be free from assault by others, is the basis of equality. Without it, the other rights are meaningless, and life becomes a sort of warfare in which force decides everything. There is no equality, because one person’s convenience takes precedence over another’s life, provided only that the first person has
more power. If we do not protect this right for everyone, it is not guaranteed for everyone, because anyone can become weak and vulnerable to assault.
Third, abortion is a civil-rights issue. Dick Gregory and many other blacks view
abortion as a type of genocide. Confirmation of this comes in the experience of pro-life activists who find open bigotry when they speak with white voters about public funding of abortion. Many white voters believe abortion is a solution for the welfare problem and a way to slow the growth of the black population. I worked two years ago for a liberal, pro-life candidate who was appalled by the number of anti-black comments he found when
discussing the issue. And Representative Robert Dornan of California, a conservative pro-life leader, once told his colleagues in the House, “I have heard many rock-ribbed Republicans brag about how fiscally conservative they are and then tell me that I was an idiot on the abortion issue.” When he asked why, said Dornan, they whispered, “Because we have to hold them down, we have to stop the population growth.” Dornan elaborated: “To them, population growth means blacks, Puerto Ricans, or other Latins,” or anyone who
“should not be having more than a polite one or two `burdens on society.’ ”
Fourth, abortion exploits women. Many women are pressured by spouses, lovers, or parents into having abortions they do not want. Sometimes the coercion is subtle, as when a husband complains of financial problems. Sometimes it is open and crude, as when a boyfriend threatens to end the affair unless the woman has an abortion, or when parents
order a minor child to have an abortion. Pro-life activists who do “clinic counseling” (standing outside abortion clinics, trying to speak to each woman who enters, urging her to have the child) report that many women who enter clinics alone are willing to talk and to listen. Some change their minds and decide against abortion. But a woman who is accompanied by someone else often does not have the chance to talk, because the husband
or boyfriend or parent is so hostile to the pro-life worker.
Abortion Isn’t the Only Option:
Alternatives to abortion do exist: adoption.
Other options include:
* Nonprofit assistance
* Church assistance
* Family assistance
* Government assistance
* The father and mother of the baby taking full responsibility for their choices.
Additional Implications: Informed Consent for Abortion Procedures
Even if the lines of reasoning and thinking above aren’t compelling, I think it shifts the debate in terms of issues of informed consent for people who get abortions. In one sense, this has the effect of inverting the question of choice–and saying that its best achieved when used in the context of informed consent. This was a standard established at Nurenburg I believe and is at least more consonant with our views on medical procedures.
Questions like: Is it a life? When does it become “life” (ie what month
or day)? Is a fetus in the womb just potential life? are ones which
are hard to deal with as an individual or as an organization.
My guess is such institutions as the Mayo Clinic are more equipped to answer such questions than am I (at least developmentally). Here is their process of fetus development toward being what we legally consider a human being:
* While generally understanding his reasons, I think John Morrow ‘s metaphor is a bit hyperbolic. He says:
So, in that context, is it moral for a state to impose it’s will on a woman and force her to relinquish control of her own body and essentially use her as an incubator?
I think it unnecessarily narrows the focus to the agent, when in fact, the choice to take the risks associated with sex has been made and it exists in the larger context of direct potential harm to other individuals.
* Harm Principle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harm_principle
* Veil of Ignorance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veil_of_ignorance
* Informed Consent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informed_consent
* Meehan abortion article: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/MeehanAbortion.php
- Cold case Christianity
- Natasha Crain
- Os Guiness
- Jefferson Bethke ??
- Tim Keller
- Peter Williams
- Gary Habermas
- John Lennox
- Ravi Zacharias
- Alister McGrath
- William Lane Craig
- Normal Geisler
- Stand to Reason (two or more)
- Veritas Forum (???)
- NT Wright
- Nancy Gutherie
- Whitworth dude
- Gospel Coalition
Richard Rohr on the Nature of Mystery:
“Remember, mystery isn’t something that you cannot understand—it is something that you can endlessly understand! There is no point at which you can say, “I’ve got it.” Always and forever, mystery gets you!”
Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation
Richard Rohr on Humans verus God’s nature:
“Human strength is defined in asserting boundaries. God, it seems, is in the business of dissolving boundaries. So we enter into paradox—what’s Three is one and what’s One is three. We just can’t resolve that, and so we confuse unity with uniformity.”
Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation
Richard Rohr on the Practical Truth of the Biblical Message:
“To know the Lord and his ways,” as the Jewish prophets put it,250 has very little to do with intelligence and very much to do with a wonderful mixture of confidence and surrender. People who live in this way tend to be the calmest and happiest people I know. They draw their life from the inside out.”
Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation
Richard Rohr on How God Works and the Nature of Mystery:
“Circling around” is all we can do. Our speaking of God is a search for similes, analogies, and metaphors. All theological language is an approximation, offered tentatively in holy awe. That’s the best human language can achieve. We can say, “It’s like—it’s similar to…,” but we can never say, “It is…” because we are in the realm of beyond, of transcendence, of mystery. And we must—absolutely must—maintain a fundamental humility before the Great Mystery. If we do not, religion always worships itself and its formulations and never God.”
Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation
Question: Why are religions so sexist?
Initially, that may be true for Islam, but its not true for Christianity. Here are a critical considerations to understand:
- Christianity values very much a women’s role as a leader in the family and caretaker for kids. In the Christian view that is arguably the most important job anyone could have. It also values this for the man, but its important that far from undermining women, this holds them up.
- Christianity holds up women as heroes.
- Christianity features women in key roles.
- Christianity values all. The imagio dei, which is the idea that all people (not just some people or rich people) are made in Gods image. This is fundamentally transformative.
- In india you have groups of people that are looked down upon because of the caste system, but in Christianity the outcasts are brought to the center. Jesus was an outcast. The Good Samaritan is the story of helping even the outcasts. Jesus and the Bible is the ultimate story of love and bringing “the least of these” to the center and allowing them to live out their full value as human beings.
- Christianity historically provided the basis for human rights and human dignity. The oft quoted lines from Habermas as helpful for historical clarity: “Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.” (Jürgen Habermas – “ “, Polity Press, 2006, pp. 150-151, translation of an interview from 1999).
- The Bible verses that are usually cited for this line of thinking are entirely out of context. The verses on this question in context talk about how love and marriage are about mutual submission and mutual admiration and mutual love:
Instructions for Christian Households
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[ ] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
If you want to learn more about the transformative cultural change brought about by Christianity from a historical perspective I would highly suggest reading the following:
Excerpt from “Life Is a Miracle”:
It is not easily dismissable that virtually from the beginning of the progress of science-technology-and-industry that we call the Industrial Revolution, while some have been confidently predicting that science, going ahead as it has gone, would solve all problems and answer all questions, others have been in mourning. Among these mourners have been people of the highest intelligence and education, who were speaking, not from nostalgia or reaction or superstitious dread, but from knowledge, hard thought, and the promptings of culture.
What were they afraid of? What were their “deep-set repugnances”? What did they mourn? Without exception, I think, what they feared, what they found repugnant, was the violation of life by an oversimplifying, feelingless utilitarianism; they feared the destruction of the living integrity of creatures, places, communities, cultures, and human souls; they feared the loss of the old prescriptive definition of humankind, according to which we are neither gods nor beasts, though partaking of the nature of both. What they mourned was the progressive death of the earth.