The Fetus, Parasites, and Narcissism

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This is am image of a fetus about to be vacuum...

When I stop thinking that I can be shocked by what another person says in this narcissistic society, someone proves me wrong. I was part of a group discussing the issue of whether the man should play any role in decision making concerning abortion. Both males and females took one side or the other in about an equal ratio. One woman, however, burst into the discussion and said in an angry tone, “No man is going to make me carry a parasite in my womb for nine months!” Taken aback, I wondered how people would respond to her—and a woman with children said that children already born were parasites. If she had used a joking tone of voice that would have been fine. She was serious. This illustrates how far the “cultural of narcissism,” a term coined by the Christopher Lasch, has penetrated into the psyche of some Americans.

It was after artificial contraception became common that children ceased to be considered a gift. I am not opposing artificial contraception—there are cases in which it is the best option—but the mentality that children are burdens rather than gifts has been a toxic byproduct of the ready availability of the pill. The notion that carrying a child in the womb for nine months is “carrying a parasite” ignores the fact that half the parasite’s chromosomes came through the mother. We are not talking about an alien life form sucking away the essence of the mother. The opposition to the natural bond between mother and child represents an attitude that is wholly oriented toward the self and not toward a dependent being. What would this person think about old people in nursing homes, the homeless, or people on welfare. Anyone wise would shudder at such attitudes among some Americans today. What is more disturbing is the willingness to share such a selfish view. Do people lack the ability to discern when they come across as self-centered spoiled children rather than as adults? Do others listening to comments calling a fetus up to the ninth month—or even a born child—a “parasite” realize that there is something seriously flawed about such an attitude. Too many people do not hide their narcissism. Abortion is the ultimate instance of narcissism, especially considering that the vast majority of abortions are done for the purpose of birth control. People desire the pleasure of sex, and when that results in conception, then they have the “parasite” killed as if they are killing a paramecium rather than a person. The devotion to the autonomous self and the rejection of natural bonds are characteristics of modernity, and with the decline of Christianity in late modernity there are no restraints on narcissism. 1.2 million abortions a year are only one symptom—the increasing acceptance of physician assisted suicide among young people is another. One hopes that T. S. Eliot’s version of the end of the world will not come to pass, but extreme narcissism always results in violence. May God help us.

Traditional Moral Positions and the Public Square

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Freedom of Speech (painting)

Freedom of Speech (painting) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Canada, it is a crime to publicly assert that practicing homosexuality is a sin. In my ethics class, students regularly write on their essays that being a virgin until marriage is “prudish,” and they do not take seriously the traditional view that couples should refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage. In many academic settings, those who believe abortion to be morally wrong are silenced, to the point that the University Faculty for Life presents an option to its members to hide their membership in the organization so that their colleagues do not find out. The notion that there is objective right and wrong is excluded from most public schools, and moral relativism is taught as the gospel truth (and teaching it as such is, of course a contradiction).

It is true that freedom of speech does not, as the old saw goes, give anyone the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Surely being morally opposed to abortion or to practicing homosexuality or to premarital sex is not the equivalent to shouting “Fire!” Yet such opinions are being increasingly excluded from the public square, in academic institutions first, and then in the wider society.

I believe in academic freedom. If a student or faculty member wishes to defend the moral rightness of premarital sex, of practicing homosexuality, or of abortion, that student or faculty member should be allowed to have a say in the university square. But academic freedom also implies that those with the opposite views on these issues should be allowed to make their case. I am a conservative, but if a liberal student makes a strong case for his position, he will get a good grade on his test and will not be punished for his views. The situation should be the same for a conservative student who makes a good defense of his position in a class with a liberal professor. To give them credit, some liberal professors do give their students such academic freedom and believe in such for their colleagues. There is a subset of professors, however, who want to silence conservative voices, especially on controversial moral issues. Such violation of freedom of speech has taken place in some institutions of higher education, to the point that a professor in one school who presented a natural law argument against homosexual practice (and did not even claim to agree with the argument) was fired–until a court awarded him his job back. The problem is that he should not have lost his job in the first place. What is going on is that hostile rhetoric against moral conservatives is repeated so much that people begin to believe it (“they are haters,” “these people are filled with anger,” etc.). I have never understood why holding moral action A to be wrong implies hating the person who performs moral action A. I wish I could say that such an ignorant position prevails only in academia, but it is present in broader society. More and more the elites in academia, the media, and in Hollywood, are attempting to exclude traditional moral discourse from legitimate discussion and to push their views onto society as a whole. It may be just a matter of time before the United States goes the direction that Canada has gone (depending on election results, court appointees, etc.) and makes illegal conservative moral discourse on abortion and on sexual ethics. I wonder who the real narrow minded people are, the real bigots, the real haters. I would venture a guess that most of them are not moral conservatives.

Marriage between Cousins and Same-Sex Marriage: A False Analogy Fallacy

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US Map of Same Sex Marriage Laws

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Consanguineous marriage (marriage between people who are second cousins or closer) is common in some traditional societies. It used to be common in small farming communities in the United States when the number of men and women available for marriage was small. My grandparents on my mother’s side of the family were second cousins. There is a slight increase of risk for recessive gene disorders, but the goods of social cohesion are considered worth the risk in traditional societies. First cousin marriages are legal in twenty states.

Today I saw a poster on a colleague’s door with two maps of the United States. One map colored in the states allowing marriage between cousins. The other map colored in the states allowing homosexual marriage (five states). The import of the poster is that homosexual marriage between people in love is no more problematic, and most likely less problematic, than marriage between cousins–and that this is unfair.

However, this commits the fallacy of false analogy. Marriage, even in ancient Paganism that accepted homosexuality in general, was only between a man and a woman. Marriage between cousins is only thought to be problematic because of the slight risk for recessive gene disorders, and these can be serious. However, traditional societies prefer stronger social bonds in tight communities. There is nothing “unnatural” about cousins marrying–the number of “degrees of affinity” is great enough that even Catholic and Anglican canon law do not forbid first cousin marriages. It does forbid marriage between siblings, between a parent and his or her child, and between uncles and aunts and their nephews and nieces. Opposition to marriage between first cousins is primarily an American phenomenon resulting from the greater mobility of American society. Such marriages fulfill the proper ends of marriage for conjugal love and the procreation of children. Homosexual marriage is by nature barren, and one cannot change that by adoption or by cloning (that is, manufacturing) a child for a homosexual couple. It is not that love itself is bad–not even the love between homosexuals. What makes that love inordinate is that it is directed toward the wrong goal and does not fulfill the proper ends of a sexual relationship between man and woman. The fact that some couples are past childbearing age or some cannot produce children due to physical problems beyond their control does not change the usual order of nature.

The poster is more like a slogan, something to move people emotionally in a certain direction. It has no logical force, for the analogy it purports to find is false, making any “argument” implied by the poster a weak inductive argument. This is consistent with debate in the United States on both sides of controversial issues such as abortion or euthanasia–or homosexual marriage. There is an abundance of emotion but precious little reasoning about these issues. I realize that many people do not agree with the natural law perspective I espouse (in agreement with the Roman Catholic Church and with my own church, the Anglican Catholic Church). Opponents of natural law should put forth their best arguments from reason and experience rather than resorting to emotional screeds like the implied screed in that poster.

Legal Positivism and the Attempt to Remake Reality

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Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., circa 1930. Edited...

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Why did the United States Supreme Court reverse over 1500 years of legal tradition and create an almost unlimited right to abortion? Later judicial rulings extended the right through the third trimester of pregnancy if a doctor signed a statement to the effect that a woman’s physical and/or mental health is endangered. Even Western Europeans outside of the U. K. have been shocked by the breadth of U. S. abortion laws.

Why did a California court reverse thousands of years of tradition and support same-sex marriage (later the state legislature made a court ruling unnecessary)? Why did federal judges, who ruled like dictators over broad swaths of the South in the 1960s and 70s, force children to get up at 4 a.m. to go to schools many miles from their neighborhood to achieve “racial balance,” a social engineering scheme that has been a dismal failure?

The arrogance of judges who wish to remake reality in their own image is due, to a large extent, to legal positivism. This holds that law does not gain its legitimacy in being consistent with the natural law, but that laws are simply products of legislative or judicial action. St. Thomas Aquinas‘ eternal law, natural law, and positive law is whittled down to positive law alone. Legal positivism is consistent with the eighteenth century Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, in which Western Europe, and later the United States, believed that man could remake society according to his own reason and will. With the help of science, a new social order, “a new order of the ages” (novus ordo seclorem) would be created, a heaven on earth, would be created as man remakes nature in his own image. As Francis Bacon said in the seventeenth century, man will “hold nature to the rack,” pulling out its secrets, and by dominating nature, create technologies for the comfort of man. Ideologically this idea is opposed to the notion of a set natural law man should follow, either in science or in ethics. But exploiting nature is parasitic on a set order of nature, and thus science cannot fall into total positivism without destroying science. Ethics and law, however, were other matters as the nineteenth century’s machines ground on like clockwork. Man could exploit ethics and law for his own purposes, for reshaping society, and there is no set order of nature that applies to ethics and law. This view was enshrined in the work of U. S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (another contribution of New England cultural rot to the ruin of the United States). Holmes was influential in pushing a legal positivist framework that quickly became the dominant framework among U. S. judges–to the point that some liberals were claiming that Judge Clarence Thomas‘ acceptance of natural law disqualified him from serving on the Supreme Court. I wonder what the liberals would say about the noted scholar and judge, John Noonan, who accepts natural law and sits on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives.  Justice Holmes was consistent with his positivist framework and appealed to the abstraction of “social welfare” to justify his position. In Buck v. Bell, 274 US200, 1927, Justice Holmes, in his majority opinion concerning the case of a woman ordered to be sterilized for being “feeble minded,” says, “It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.” Holmes’ attempt to justify sterilization appeals to the public good–it is a utilitarian appeal–and utilitarianism only makes sense in a moral and legal world bereft of a concept of natural law. If law is just a positive act of legislatures and judges, then any kind of action by the state can be justified for “social welfare” or “for the public good.” Natural law offers a constraint on the tendency to remake society by getting rid of people that society finds uncomfortable.  But without the restraint of natural law, the state can justify any use of power against individuals or groups as long as it can be justified in terms of the “general welfare.” Note the terminology used by the U. S. Constitution, which is more of an Enlightenment Doctrine than some of its conservative advocates claim. Given the presuppositions of the Enlightenment that were not removed by the latent Christianity of the founding fathers of the United States (and the more active Christianity of others), the turn to legal positivism was a logical turn–but a turn that has led to a further breakdown of American society and the dismantling of the ethics and laws upon which Western Civilization has depended since the rise of Christianity.

“Creating” Reality vs. Respecting Reality

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Hill of Slane ruins

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Women go against the natural impulse to care for their offspring and kill their children via abortion. Academics and the media deny that marriage and the family are natural institutions and believe that marriage and the family are whatever we make them. The tradition, dating back thousands of years, of marriage being between male and female is denied by academics and judges. Children no longer have a mother at home and are reared in day care centers, and academics and the majority of the media rejoice. Pundits talk about “designer babies” created through genetic engineering. Weapons of mass destruction are created out of thin air, and a Bush administration official says that “Reality is what we decide it to be.”

Most ancient and medieval philosophers believed in a natural order that human beings were required to respect. A violation of the set order of nature would lead either to societal chaos and the destruction of the proper natural order. That began to change in the modern era, with Rene Descartes (1596-1650) moving the direction of philosophy away from nature to the self. The idea that things had real natures was cast off by William of Occam’s nominalism in the fourteenth century, so it was easy to move from the emphasis on self to the notion that categories in the mind account for the general structure of the world we experience. This was Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) position. But Kant believed these categories were the same for all rational beings, so we all experience the same world. Once this assumption was abandoned, then reality was thought to be what man willed it to be. In this view, there is no natural order that exist prior to man; it is man who makes reality what he wants it to be.

I offer a long-term empirical test of the idea that we can manipulate reality to be what we wish it to be. America and Western Europe are trying to mold reality in a way that supports an overly-individualist, self-centered, and materialistic lifestyle. If a pregnancy gets in the way, kill the fetus–after all, life begins when we say it begins. If old people get in the way, kill them–after all, life is meaningful when we say it is meaningful. If politicians want to profit from war, they should go ahead–they will invent reality to justify starting a war. If the family gets in the way of our desires, there is divorce, and for those who prefer lovers of the same gender, they can adopt, too. Reality is what me make it.

My proposal for an experiment is this: Let society go the direction of trying to create reality in the image of its desires. If my belief that the actions resulting from that view violate the natural order is correct, society will inevitably descend to chaos and ruin. Either social order will disappear into crime and chaos, or a strongman will take power to restore order through dictatorial force. If I turn out to be wrong, I am willing to stand corrected. Deal?

Judge Walker’s Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

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Wedding cake of a same-sex marriage, photo tak...

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U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker has ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage, approved by California voters in a referendum, violates federal equal protections and due process laws. This is not the first time a federal judge has tried to override the will of the people in order to push his own moral and legal agenda, and it will not be the last. For many years the federal courts have trumped the authority of the states, violating the tenth amendment to the U. S. Constitution with impunity. This usurpation of power by the courts, as Thomas Jefferson noted, results in a judicial dictatorship that violates the fundamental principles of the republic. It is for this reason that Jefferson disagreed with Chief Justice John Marshall on the issue of judicial review. Even if there are situations in which judicial review has been used for a good moral end, the power judicial review grants to judges allows them to also use that power for bad moral ends. The rights of the people of each state to legislate is thereby cut off by raw judicial power that is backed up by the machinery of the federal government—and sometimes, by means of the military.

Besides the constitutional issues involved in this case, a ban on same-sex marriage is in line with the natural law. Of course most people today, especially among the scholarly elite, do not believe in natural law. Most American philosophers are utilitarians, and most judges accept a legal positivism that separates law from nature. But natural law argues that moral principles are derived from the kind of beings human persons are—rational animals. To separate law from human nature ultimately makes law subject to the arbitrary whims of the judiciary. In the case of same-sex marriage, a ban is in line with natural law due to the goal or function marriage serves in human life. Contrary to some naïve critics of natural law, the problem with same-sex marriage, and with homosexuality in general, is not merely a matter, to put it crudely, of a bodily organ going into a place on another person where it does not belong. The issue is teleological—what is the proper function of sex and marriage in human life? Even into the modern era, sex and marriage were understood primarily (though not exclusively) in the context of procreation, of bringing children into the world, with marriage providing a stable household for the moral development of such children. This does not imply that this is the only function of sex and marriage—love, companionship, and in the case of sex, physical closeness and great pleasure are obviously goods that result from sex and marriage. But all these goods are subsumed under the fundamental human need to pro-create, to bring new life into the world, and to nurture that life to fulfillment by moral training. Practices that oppose such ends result in social chaos, as is empirically shown by the social disorder in communities with high rates of illegitimacy. Encouraging homosexual practices also thwarts the natural human goods of reproduction and family. Adoption of children by homosexual couples, or, God forbid, in the future, cloning, will not change this fact—children need exposure to both a man and woman to receive the unique insights of both.

This point is not original to me, and I do not remember who brought it up, but our society began by separating marriage from procreation with the invention of the birth control pill. Now I do not have a problem with a couple using the pill as long as (if the couple is married) they are open at some point in their marriage to having children. But as a matter of empirical fact, both marriage and sex were separated from procreation. With the sexual revolution, marriage was no longer considered a moral requirement to have sex. With both sex and procreation separated from marriage, it was a small step for contemporary liberal culture to say that marriage is a private contract between two individuals, and it does not matter what sex they are. But encouraging this societal down slope by legalizing same-sex marriage will only accelerate the breakdown of the traditional family structure that is essential for human flourishing. The voters of California were wise in approving a ban on same-sex marriage, and Judge Walker’s decision, sadly, was wrongheaded and foolish.

This is not to say that there should be a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage—the decision should be in the hands of the people or their representatives in each individual state. It is almost certain that Judge Walker’s decision will eventually reach the Supreme Court after its journey through the Ninth Circuit, and hopefully the Supreme Court will recognize the rights of the people of California to make their own decisions in this matter.