Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Abortion and the ISS

One of the arguments put forth by pro-aborts in defense of abortion on demand is the "Thompson's violinist" argument. It goes something like this:
You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you." Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. "Tough luck. I agree. but now you've got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him." I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.
There are so many flaws in this argument that it readily falls apart, because it is a seriously flawed analogy. A woman doesn't wake up mysteriously pregnant - some action has been taken (usually voluntarily) to cause it. And the fetus is not kept alive by extraordinary medical means that seriously hamper the woman's ability to live, but by the natural functions of the woman's body. I could go on.

In light of this, and the recent withdrawal of the United States from manned space flight, I would like to humbly offer what I consider to be a more accurate analogy, involving the International Space Station (ISS). Imagine you are an astronaut on the ISS. A visiting Soyuz capsule docks with you and unintentionally leaves behind an astronaut (perhaps because a safety device malfunctions). You didn't want this astronaut on the ISS, but here she is. The next scheduled Soyuz flight that could pick her up is due in nine months. You have the life support capacity (food oxygen) to keep her alive for the nine months, but it may mean certain accommodations, such as watching your diet, being a bit more cramped than normal, nor being able to exercise or use equipment exactly when you want to. Is it reasonable for you to shove this astronaut out the airlock?

I consider this to be a more accurate analogy in a number of ways. Although the astronaut is not physically connected to you, as the violinist is, she does rely on your life support system, which you control, and which was placed there for your benefit. In addition, it recognizes that the mother's body, like the life support system on the ISS, is designed to be able to support an additional life. The extraordinary action is the murder of the astronaut - the status quo is to keep her there. This is analogous to the case of abortion - the status quo would be to do nothing and let the baby develop. The visiting astronaut could have been left there by accident (aka contraceptive failure) or on purpose (aka rape). It doesn't matter how she got there, if she is human.

I've been thinking about this analogy for a couple of days now and I think it holds water. What do you think? In what ways is it an imperfect analogy? In what ways is the violinist argument stronger?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dark Knight of the Soul

I know it's been a while since my last post. I thought this spring was busy, but it is nothing compared to this summer. My wife is recovering from shoulder surgery, which gives me a perfect opportunity to reflect on just how much I need her and how perfectly suited marriage is to the creation and rearing of children. In other words, I'm super busy.

Michal Voris is a nut, but his heart is in the right place, and although I often feel he goes too far, at least he's going in the right direction. In a recent video he publicly resigns from the Knights of Columbus over the refusal of the national council to either allow a local council to police its own membership nor do it themselves.

For readers unfamiliar with the Knights of Columbus, their overview booklet states:
In 1882, Father Michael J. McGivney invited a small group of parishioners to gather in the basement of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut. His goal was simple — to establish an Order that would unite men in their faith as well as help provide for Catholic families in times of need. It was in that humblest of beginnings that the Knights of Columbus was founded.
At issue is whether or not a pro-abortion politician can remain a member of the K of C. The local council said "no", the national said it was not up to the local council, but up to them, then did nothing about the situation for over a year, through inaction implicitly approving the status quo.

I know people on both sides of the issue, and I don't mean to belittle their opinions, but this is "What does Mike Think" and I've been thinking about this. In fact, sad to say I lost sleep thinking about this. While I disagree with Voris' decision to leave the K of C, and I think his accusations of malfeasance on the part of the national council is inappropriate, he has a point about the scandal caused by the council's approval of the situation.

The Constitution of the Knights of Columbus states:
Ipso Facto Forfeiture — Members
SEC. 168. Any member of this Order shall, ipso facto, forfeit his membership in the Order —
Failure to Remain a Practical Catholic
1. Who shall fail to remain a practical Catholic in union with the Holy See.

In addition, in their Resolution on Building a Culture of Life, the Knights state [emphasis mine]:
FURTHER RESOLVED, that we reaffirm our long-standing policy of not inviting to any Knights of Columbus event, persons, especially public officials or candidates for public office, who do not support the legal protection of unborn children, or who advocate for the legalization of assisted suicide or euthanasia; and of prohibiting such persons from renting or otherwise using facilities over which we have control, or speaking at Knights of Columbus events, or bestowing on them honors or privileges of our Order of any kind, or inviting them to serve as honorary chairpersons of events, celebrations, or committees, or hold any office in the Knights of Columbus;
Which begs the issue of how one could remain a member yet be barred from any events.

The defenders of the national council say that "if the bishop fails to publicly excommunicate a person we must assume the bishop believes the person to be in union with the Holy See." Certainly the Knights should remain obedient to their bishop, but in this case the bishop has not stated whether or not the politician in question is in fact in union with the Holy See, but simply hasn't made a public statement one way or the other. As we saw in the case of Patrick Kennedy, a bishop may in fact decide a politician is not in union with the Church, but handle it privately for pastoral reasons.

So as I see it, the basis of the dispute is whether or not Catholics can in good conscience make a decision about the whether someone's behavior is in accord with the Holy See, or whether they need to appeal to a bishop in all cases. Rather than present my opinion on the matter, I will defer to Cardinal Arinze.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day

Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person. It requires that the necessary conditions be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in true ideals, and of the "subjectivity" of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility. Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and sceptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life. Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends. It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.

- Bl. Pope John Paul II in Centesimus annus

Sunday, July 3, 2011

American Idol

A few weeks ago at the death mill I was verbally assaulted. Not by one of the customers or staff, or by a pro-death passerby, but by another pro-lifer. The subject of the assault was that I was an idol worshiper (aka Catholic). Apparently I worship statues, my rosary beads, and my scapular. After a five minute dress down, and being told that I was "disgusting" the accuser told me that she used to be a Catholic (as if I couldn't have guessed) until she learned to be a Christian. She told me she learned that her scapular couldn't save her, and her rosary couldn't save her and her statues couldn't save her - her Bible saved her.

Now, I understand how all these things can be used in a superstitious manner (and apparently were by this woman), but I can assure you that I don't worship anyone but God. A statue is a statue and the only use I have for it is to remind me of the men and women who have set an example for me of how to live. My rosary beads do nothing for me but mark the number of prayers I am saying so I can use my meager brain power to contemplate the life of Christ. My scapular is non-existent because I don't have one.

Note that she didn't even mention Eucharistic Adoration, which to a protestant actually is idol worship, and is a great way for me to slip in a reference to "Lift the City" into this blog post.

But that isn't really what I wanted to blog about. While I was listening to this woman's tirade, it struck me that while I am saved by Jesus, this woman claims she is saved by her Bible. I believe if pressed she would say that she didn't mean that literally, that she is saved by Jesus Christ, but I think her words are a Freudian slip. While she and other "Bible Christians" accuse us Catholics of worshiping idols, I would claim the finger points both ways (and more truly in their direction).

One theme in the bible is that "man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deut. 8:3, Matthew 4:4) The Bible Christian twists this to mean that the Bible is king, but I think it means just the opposite. We are told in scripture that the bible does not contain every word or action of God (John 21:25). St. Paul reminds us in 2 Thessalonians to listen to what we've been taught, both orally and in writing (2 Thessalonians 2:15). And in Matthew we are told to take our conflicts to the church as the last word (Matthew 18:17). The bible should not be the last word. Christ tells us that is reserved for the church.

And to me that makes perfect sense. A book is a book. It has no meaning without human interpretation. If that human interpreter isn't divinely protected from fault, then the bible itself is not protected from fault. In other words, God doesn't deal in print, He deals with people. And it is the Bible Christian, not the Catholic, who has elevated a book to be superior to the authority appointed by Christ, and so is worshiping an idol - a paper idol - over the true Word.