Changing Morals and the Fate of Evangelicalism

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 28, 2010 in Christian Theology,Guest Post

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Below is an excellent article from Robert Price’s opinion newsletter Zarathustra Speaks. The newsletter says: “Copyright © 2007 Robert M. Price. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce, copy or distribute this newsletter if accompanied with this copyright notice.”

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It used to be the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists would never darken the door of movie theatres, even if Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place was showing (I kid you not!). Now that’s moot, especially in the wake of home theatre technology. They wouldn’t dance, because it was supposedly arousing, essentially mating behavior-which it obviously is! But now they’ve skipped the preliminaries (keep reading).

More significantly, they were very much against divorce and had a low incidence of it. But that, too, has changed. Evangelical churchmen and seminary professors found they just could not thunder against divorce any more once their own grown children were getting divorced. Same with women working outside the home. Economic realities dictated theology just as sure as the Feds’ threats to the Mormon Church miraculously prompted new LDS revelations to abandon, first, polygamy, then racial discrimination in the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Homosexuality is next on the list. More and more educated Evangelicals seem to feel they must find a compromise between the inherited party line and their liberal social conscience. This is especially true with seminarians and young ministers. And such theological accommodations are not hard to find. It doesn’t take as much text-twisting as slave-abolition or feminism, that’s for sure. And it was secular feminism challenging the church that led, more than anything else, to the great inerrancy crisis among Evangelicals in the 1970s. Prayer changes things? Things change prayer.

Recent surveys indicate that more and more Evangelicals are questioning or rejecting the doctrine of an eternal hell as well as the idea that non-Christians will not be saved in the afterlife. You can see where this is headed: they are making their way toward being one more tolerant, live-and-let-live mainstream denomination. Nor am I complaining. I doubt many of us are really that vexed by the particular beliefs any fundamentalist happens to hold. No, what we find obnoxious is the pugnacious and obnoxious attitudes that so often accompany their beliefs. But what if they drop that attitude? Why would they?

It was for the sake of feeling uniquely indwelt and transformed by the Holy Ghost that they have erected attitudinal walls against non-co-religionists. It was a mind game to protect their cherished in-group and their firmly-cemented membership in it. But the more you become like the mainstream, the less separates you are from everybody else, well, the more difficult it becomes to feel special, uniquely connected to God and sanctified by Jesus. It’s not like they ever wanted to relegate everybody else to the Lake of Fire. It just seemed necessary in order for them to rejoice in not being relegated there themselves. And now feeling so different is no longer the priority. Attitudes affect doctrines which affect attitudes.

But the thing that will sooner or later bring the Evangelical Wailing Wall down is sex. More and more, Middle School, High School, and College Evangelicals admit to having sex in the same casual way as their “unsaved” contemporaries. That is, pre-marital, recreational sex. Having been so long Apollonian, they are itching to yield to Dionysus. But the gospel teaching of Jesus happens to be far more Apollonian than Dionysian. (Give ‘em time, though, to discover the Q Source Jesus of Leif Vaage, Jesus as a “first-century party animal,” and they’ll be boasting of their biblical fidelity again.)

From the standpoint of sect-maintenance, this shift is fatal for two reasons. First, and most obviously, if this fundamental plank of the Evangelical platform rots and snaps, you can find little of similar magnitude to point to as the signal difference between the saved and the unsaved. I admit, there are a few more that would be similarly fatal, such as a casual permissiveness re: drugs and alcohol.

Again, I admit that there are matters of graver moral content. A Christian ought to be able to say, e.g., “Jesus saved me from lying, from being insensitive, from being self-centered, cowardly, evasive, materialistic,” etc., and those things might be more important. I’d say they are. But you see, everybody accepts and admires those values. They don’t give Evangelicals special bragging rights like the sexual and other behavioral codes used to do.

Second, relaxing the sexual code is symbolically significant. Any group’s mores concerning food and sex are symbolic of their social boundaries and the shape of their self-identity. A group does not necessarily have both indices. One will do, though usually there are both. Old Testament Israelites were separated from rival cults/cultures by upholding inflexible restrictions on permissible food and on possible intermarriage partners. Sexual fidelity had a lot to do with guaranteeing that one’s true heirs inherited one’s land and name. Jewish Christians were alarmed at Paul being willing to abolish Jewish dietary and other ceremonial scruples to make it easier for Gentiles to join Christianity. They could see instantly that such a move would result in Jews being squeezed to the margins of the new religion-and it did. Jewish identity within Christianity was lost. Similarly, among American Jews today it is not bigotry when Orthodox rabbis discourage mixed marriages with non-Jews. Allow that, and you can say the big goodbye to Judaism in America. It will be only a matter of time before intermarriage with well-meaning and good-hearted non-Jews will completely erode American Judaism. The hybrid “Chrismika” is only a stop along the one-way track. Maybe there will be an Orthodox farm next to the Amish farm.

Well, when the sex barrier falls, the same fate is in store for Evangelical Christianity. (There never was a consistent Evangelical food boundary; even the Reformed drank alcohol.) And when the new generations are none too sure that non-believers are headed for hell, it becomes inevitable that American Evangelicalism will ease into the acid bath of American Pluralism. And it may happen sooner than you think. And then all those mega-churches will be up for sale. Unless of course they find a new product to sell. TV preacher Joel Osteen has done just that. His Evangelical belief is merely vestigial; he has converted to New Thought. It is no coincidence that he fills that stadium. Others may not be so lucky.

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

smijer August 28, 2010 at 5:40 am

I think the elephant in the room is abortion…. it’s the line of delineation that evangelical sects will rely on for decades to come. What happens after that is a tad mysterious, though. Could be that abortion helps hold the line until the sexuality egg can be unbroken. Or it could be that Price’s intuitions come to fruition. Who knows?

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Márcio August 28, 2010 at 7:02 am

I agree. More and more christians are abandoning the Bible. Joel Osteen, for example, preaches the christless christianity and the prosperity gospel and people are buying that.

The life of a christian must be centered on Christ, that is something that more and more christians are abandoning. For me, these people are losing the best thing one can have in life.

Most christians doesn’t believe that marriage is the best environment for sex, and that is why God determined that sex should be practiced only after marriage. I often hear people saying that “God doesn’t understand anything about sex”.

That opens the doors to almost everything else, like very young and single mothers, abortion and homosexuality. And because a lot of pastors are more interested in money than in the Bible, these christians doesn’t hear the opinion of God about these things.

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Ajay August 28, 2010 at 7:21 am

So this movement toward liberalization…at what point does it meet a renewed hard-line conservatism? These things seem dialectical. I bet historically, that has been the case no? Or is this two steps toward liberalization, one step back?

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matth August 28, 2010 at 7:39 am

Abortion will help hold the line which is unfortunate because it should be just as plain for a nonbeliever to see the immorality of it. It is not akin to murder, but it is some kind of human life we almost universally agree has a great deal of value (more than any other nonhuman animal) but many leave out the part where it needs to be protected. Many nonbelievers remain painfully inconsistent on this issue and it will continue to hurt their cause. Just as we now find slavery and racism evil and absurd, and just as denying gays the right to marry will seem that way soon, i have little doubt tomorrow’s nonbelievers will look back on today’s nonbelievers with similar feelings. Just as much as sex issues can break religion, human life issues can break the nonbelievers.

Luke and alonzo use this idea in their ethical theory of turning down dials that correspond to certain desires like theft rape and murder. We should be turning down the dials on anyone’s desire to have an abortion or find it it anyway acceptable to destroy innocent human life. This is the world nonbelievers should want to live in just as much as anyone else.

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Patrick August 28, 2010 at 7:47 am

Marcio- Abandoning the Bible is not incompatible with centering your life on Christ.

Reformed Epistemology FTW.

People should fully consider the repercussions of the arguments they advance.

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lukeprog August 28, 2010 at 8:25 am

matth,

I seem to recall reading that opposition to abortion has actually increased since the 1970s. In contrast, for example, opposite the gay marriage has massively decreased since then.

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Márcio August 28, 2010 at 8:33 am

Patrick,

I disagree. If a person wants to know Christ and understand who He was, what He did, what He said and why we should trust in Him, the Bible is the only source for that.

Without the Bible all we have is the christless christianity and prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen and many others.

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obi juan August 28, 2010 at 8:36 am

Since this was written in 2007, has anything happened since then that would confirm that Evangelicalism is dying? It also seems to me that Evangelicalism had wrapped itself pretty tight to Republican politics and the loss of the American presidency must have been a huge hit to their psyche (even though McCain wasn’t quite in tune to that). A lot of the “Obama is a secret Muslim” stuff stems from a No True Scotsman way of looking at things, that Obama even though he professes to be a Christian can’t be a Christian because no true Christian would do the non-Republican stuff he’s doing. It also must be generally irksome and inexplicable that Obama seems to have an ok family life.

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Patrick August 28, 2010 at 8:36 am

… my last comment may come across as snippy. Let me elaborate.

Remember Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ? He didn’t primarily base the story on the Bible. He based it on the purported visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, a nun who allegedly had visions of Christ. Now some people have criticized him for that, but honestly he wasn’t behaving inappropriately given his presuppositions. IF you believe that the revelations of a stigmatic 18th century nun are reliable, THEN there’s nothing inappropriate about resolving conflicts between the nun’s visions and the Bible in favor of the nun. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with ignoring the Bible entirely, since you’ve apparently got a contemporary source with access to the same source material from which the Bible was written.

And that’s why Reformed Epistemology liberates Christianity from the Bible.

Lets say you have a belief that you feel is properly basic, or internal witness of the holy spirit, or whatever you want to call it. This belief is directly contradicted by the Bible, so you conclude that the Bible is wrong and the internal witness of the holy spirit is right.

How can someone criticize you without first disproving reformed epistemology? They can’t. The Bible can’t defeat you, because assuming the truth of your internal witnessing, you have access to better information than the Bible. No matter what arguments people advance against you, you’ll just respond the same way that reformed epistemologists respond: assuming that your revelations are true, there’s no defeater for them. They can only be defeated if you assume they’re not true. So your opponent’s arguments are circular.

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al friedlander August 28, 2010 at 10:48 am

This reminds me of a funny article I read yesterday on CNN. These ‘immoral’ neo-Christians focus on good works. Blasphemy.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/08/27/almost.christian/

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TH August 28, 2010 at 12:31 pm

matth,

What’s abortion for Christians these days, destruction of fertilized egg, embryo or fetus?

Abortion has always been about empowering women, not about ending potential life. Without abortion, any man can guarantee offspring by physically overcoming a woman. Abortion takes away that guarantee. To the extent that society removes male desires to treat women openly or subtly as mere bearers of progeny, abortion fades in importance, and the importance of protecting potential life increases.

So as an atheist, I can believe that fetal stage abortions will eventually be highly regulated in developed countries. But I can’t imagine that it would ever be illegal to destroy an embryo or even an early stage fetus prior to neural development.

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TH August 28, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Márcio,

I disagree. If a person wants to know Christ and understand who He was, what He did, what He said and why we should trust in Him, the Bible is the only source for that.

Without the Bible all we have is the christless christianity and prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen and many others.

I had some very sincere, earnest Mormon missionaries tell me that the Book of Mormon was the best way to know Jesus. Could you please work it out with them who’s pure, honest and true, and who’s the degenerate?

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cd August 28, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I seem to recall reading that opposition to abortion has actually increased since the 1970s.

Disagreement with abortion as a fact of American life has stayed pretty constant since that has been polled.

What has changed is the proportion of Americans who agree that it’s the individual woman’s right to decide how to proceed. That is the high 60s percentages and increases about 1% per year.

In short, as a country we live a contradiction between what is desirable for the collective and what is desirable for the individual. I believe the answer lies in that we know but refuse to admit that we have/are overpopulated. When the population has ‘rightsized’ the contradiction will disappear, as will the bulk of abortions.

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Jon Hanson August 28, 2010 at 2:15 pm

So reading the Bible is a prerequisite for a relationship with Jesus? Wow, sucks to be the majority of people outside of the last century who have been illiterate.

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Rob August 28, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Patrick,

Well played.

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scootwes August 28, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Personally, I think it’s Joel Osteen’s corny jokes at the beginning of each sermon that fills the stadium . . .

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MichaelPJ August 28, 2010 at 7:54 pm

@matth

Abortion really isn’t a problem for unbelievers, unless they continue to believe in the soul.

Consider: a sperm and an egg (separate) don’t have any value (or negligibly little, unless you want to start protesting the ongoing holocaust due to my failure to have sex), but a fully grown human being is very valuable. So it seems reasonable that there is some point between the two points in which the potential human being becomes more valuable than, say, an ant. Lacking a soul, it seems pretty arbitrary to say that this happens in one giant leap at conception, and so the reasonable thing is to link it to the continuing development of the embryo.

The ethical question about abortion then becomes a question of how developed the fetus is, and what other considerations are involved. I suspect the most controversy comes over the significance of the former. Most non-vegetarians are committed to the idea that a pig is worth less than the satisfaction they get from bacon. I reckon a human embryo that hasn’t got a developed nervous system, or even a proper brain, is less valuable than a happy, fairly intelligent pig. Ergo, abortion up to that point is less troublesome than bacon. That should cover a lot of cases. Obviously, there is room for dispute over the borderline cases, but the general principle seems fairly clear to me.

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Kaelik August 28, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Total derail:

@Hermes

“Kaelik, I had some salient comments for you but I could not give clear examples of what I was thinking. Like you, I don’t think free will is what we have. OTOH, I don’t think that the false alternative of mechanistic determinism is accurate either.
If I can flesh it out, I’ll post a comment.”

Any word?

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Lorkas August 29, 2010 at 5:42 am

“No matter what arguments people advance against you, you’ll just respond the same way that reformed epistemologists respond: assuming that your revelations are true, there’s no defeater for them. They can only be defeated if you assume they’re not true. So your opponent’s arguments are circular.”

The argument that the revelations are true is just as circular as its opposition, so there’s no reason to accept the revelations as true. “If my revelation is true, then it must be true” is as obviously horrible as reasoning can get. Responding that the opposition’s argument is circular is definitely a pot-kettle exchange.

Furthermore, I’m pretty sure that there are ways to approach the revelations without assuming they are either true or false. If you start from the position that they may be true and they may be false, but also start with the position that the Bible is true, then you could conclude that the revelations are false in a non-question-begging way if the revelations contradict the Bible. You haven’t assumed that the revelations are false in that case, you’ve just assumed that the Bible is true and used it as a tool to help determine whether or not the revelations are true.

Or you could start by assuming that no God exists, and conclude from that that the revelations are false. Neither of those is really a circular argument because their premises are quite different from the conclusion. The conclusion is implied by the premises in these two types of arguments, of course, but that’s no violation of any rule of logic.

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matth August 29, 2010 at 7:44 am

The question of a soul or intrinsic value or at what point unborn life becomes a human being with all the same rights as us is in many ways missing the point. These are metaphysical questions that are to a degree important here, but the main question to be asking is this. Does this unborn life have SOME value to us? Not objective value. I simply want to try and be consistent and point out to anyone else any inconsistencies they might have on this issue.

I think we would universally agree even a newly fertilized egg has some value. Whether it be a women just finding out she is pregnant and sharing the news with family and everyone feeling a rush of emotion associated with this microscopic egg. Or a scientist who refuses to run bizarre experiments on it like removing some genes for experimental reasons or sticking it in another animal or something. Or someone who injects a women against her will with poison that would not hurt her but cause an unwanted abortion. There are a whole range of human actions and feeling that suggest almost everyone finds this newly formed human life VERY valuable. More so than animals. And of course there are a majority of people who find this life almost as valuable or as valuable as any human life outside the womb.

I just want to put these obvious things on the table. You and almost everyone else value even a zygote to some degree or another. Some value it as much or nearly as much as a born human life. As it then matures it gains even more subjective value in most people’s eyes. When you can see it live on a screen it starts to gain even more value. And by value here i just mean you really care about it, there is nothing metaphysical about it.

So when you look at it this way. As something that has some value to you, society values to one degree or another, and some value as much as any other human. You see how damaging it is to individuals and society as a whole to kill this unborn life which has tons of value wrapped up in it. And as you move up the spectrum to something like partial birth abortions you see just how evil it is to kill something we almost all value a great deal.

So its just about acknowledging the obviousness of it all. Its valuable, and when someone kills it, that is in some way almost always an immoral act. Not akin to murder, but not a good thing either.

I have seen different polls say different things, and there are more subtle questions about legality vs personal feeling towards it vs the morality of it. The point is the truth of what we value is too plain for us all to see. What ever the current trend, eventually you will see more and more people seeing this as an immoral action that should be discouraged greatly. And nonbelievers will never completely have the moral high ground until they can at least acknowledge abortion is almost never an acceptable action.

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Patrick August 29, 2010 at 7:52 am

matth- your reasoning doesn’t follow. You can’t go from

“Whether it be a women just finding out she is pregnant and sharing the news with family and everyone feeling a rush of emotion associated with this microscopic egg.”

to

“You see how damaging it is to individuals and society as a whole to kill this unborn life which has tons of value wrapped up in it.”

The values that you’re outlining are context sensitive, not intrinsic to a fertilized egg. They aren’t inapplicable to a woman seeking an abortion.

If you acknowledge a hopeful mother’s rush of joy at finding out that she’s pregnant as “value” that adheres to the fertilized egg cell, then you have to acknowledge an unwilling mother’s rush of fear at the news of an unwanted pregnancy as it’s antithesis.

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Kaelik August 29, 2010 at 7:58 am

@matt

… No.

Some people value it, some people value it a lot (Not a majority). So what. I value my fingernails. I also value them less than many other things. At no point does someone else highly valuing my fingernails mean that I should not be able to trade my fingernails, which I value, for something else that I value more.

And if I didn’t value my fingernails? Then sure as shit not going to let someone else’s value of my fingernails matter.

You are trying to extrapolate that because some people who are not me value something highly, therefore, it’s inconsistent for me to destroy that thing. That’s not how inconsistent works. If I value something less than what I am trading it for, ie, a zygote vs 9 months of really annoying shit + the knowledge that somewhere out there is an orphan with my DNA being all sad and lonely, then it is perfectly consistent for me to destroy one for the other.

Just like every day that I exercise, I am destroying precious free time that I would like to spend doing something else in return for being healthy.

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MichaelPJ August 29, 2010 at 8:59 am

@matth

I take issue with the claim that a zygote is more valuable than all non-human animals. Say you have a middle-aged dog whom you love very much. You’ve just got pregnant (pretend you’re female), and an evil demon declares that he will destroy either the zygote or the dog. I would certainly save the dog! After all, you can always get pregnant again. Maybe once it’s a late term pregnancy I might, with sorrow, let the dog go, but it would still be a non-trivial decision!

I’d also like to echo what the other commenters have pointed out: you claim that many people value a newly conceived zygote greatly; the millions of women who have abortions must weigh just as strongly to the alternative. Plus, I would suggest that the people who do value the zygote/are excited by pregnancy are either 1) naively thinking that a person has indeed poppped into being fully formed or 2) pleased because in this context (where they want to have a baby) they seem to be on track.

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matth August 29, 2010 at 9:26 am

I want to get out what people actually value here. What do people actually value more than anything else in the universe? human life. But more importantly what do you personally actually value. Its an appeal to your own moral consistency. Look at what you really value and what other’s really value and how much you, other individuals and society as a whole suffer when we do not discourage destroying things that we all value to some degree or another. This value is not hypothetical, its not valuing something abstract, or something trivial, its real, and possibly the most important thing there is that we value. We do not value fingernails to the extent or quality we value human life. ( You may not want to call it human life but it something that is actually valued in a very similar way to human life.)

Maybe it is true that you hold a zygote to have almost no value at all. It is not worth your time, it is not worth the potential suffering it might endure. And maybe you do not care that billions of people value them more than most anything else there is in the universe. If you really, actually dont care at all, then i guess you are being consistent. It is just very hard for me to believe there are that many people who actually do not care at all. Maybe it just takes more direct experience with this kind of thing to generate the personal value. I just want to bring to people’s attention on this spectrum from zygote to baby, there is some value almost everyone attaches to it every step of the way.

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matth August 29, 2010 at 9:36 am

Even the million’s of women who have abortions, i would really want to genuinely ask, if you were honest with yourself, did it have some value to you. Was it a really difficult, painful decision? I think in the majority of cases it is. Because they really did care about it. But maybe i am wrong, maybe many prochoicer simply do not actually care, i just find that really hard to believe.

See once you acknowledge you do care, and it has SOME value to you.. you are free to explore just how much you do care, and then you may find out you care more than you realized.

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Kaelik August 29, 2010 at 9:54 am

@matth

“I want to get out what people actually value here. What do people actually value more than anything else in the universe? human life. But more importantly what do you personally actually value. Its an appeal to your own moral consistency.”

Once again. People don’t value human life more than anything else. Lots of people value human life less than or equal to lots of things. Like happiness and liberty.

When people are willing to die and kill to abolish slavery, that’s because human life without liberty is valued lower than human life with liberty to a drastic degree, such that freeing one person from slavery would often be worth ones own life.

“We do not value fingernails to the extent or quality we value human life. ( You may not want to call it human life but it something that is actually valued in a very similar way to human life.)”

Once again, you value something as much as human life, but you are not everyone, or even a majority. Most people don’t value a zygote as much as they do a human being, or even close.

“And maybe you do not care that billions of people value them more than most anything else there is in the universe.”

Billions of people don’t value them that much. Stop projecting your opinions onto other people.

“If you really, actually dont care at all, then i guess you are being consistent. It is just very hard for me to believe there are that many people who actually do not care at all.”

Once again, you don’t have to not care at all. You can just care less than you do about 7 months of pain. Caring less than you do about something else is completely possible.

“Maybe it just takes more direct experience with this kind of thing to generate the personal value.”

Don’t be a patronizing ass. Your name is Matt. You are more than likely male. You are probably not a Doctor. You therefore have less experience with zygotes than all doctors that deal with pregnancy, and most women. Two demographics that are mostly pro abortion. Don’t attribute your opponents lack of value to something as being from not having experience. They have more than you.

“See once you acknowledge you do care, and it has SOME value to you.. you are free to explore just how much you do care, and then you may find out you care more than you realized.”

When it has some value, people say that it has some value, and they explore how much value. And then they decide that it does not have enough value to warrant not having an abortion.

You are wrong. Enlightening people that sometimes zygotes have value to some people is not going to change the amount of value it has to people who have already decided it doesn’t have enough to justify keeping it.

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MichaelPJ August 29, 2010 at 9:56 am

Okay, I’m not disagreeing that many people DO attach value to a zygote all the way through, but I’m claiming that a) many people don’t, and b) if they do, they’re wrong.

Now, the second claim is more controversial, but I laid out reasons for thinking so in my first post. I think that if you don’t allow any magic, then it is only reasonable to attribute the zygote’s increasing value to its increasing development. Anything else is just your hormones manipulating you, or you projecting the value of the actual baby onto the zygote.

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MichaelPJ August 29, 2010 at 9:58 am

Sorry, that first sentence should be “great value”, i.e. enough to warrant abortion being immoral.

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matth August 29, 2010 at 11:12 am

@Kaelik if i came off like a patronizing ass i apologize and that was not my intent. I think we at least got to the point where we both agree they have value. Just a very different degree of value here i guess.

This is what i want to get at. It has some value to both of us, and I do not think i am projecting my opinions to everyone else when i say it has a great deal of value to many people as well. Here again i think we differ in the amount of people and extent to which they actually value unborn life. Its an interesting question that is very hard to gauge so i admit i am in part letting some of my own personal feelings help me estimate that.

I did not intend to sound condescending when i said personal experience can and probably will give people more of a sense of a value of this unborn life. When you actually see it on the sonogram or feel it kick, these things are bound to move most people in the direction of giving it more value. Not everyone, and maybe not very much, but it did myself.

But look i am also looking for some middle ground. I would argue with someone who called abortion murder, but i then dont want people to take this to mean abortion is not the ending of something nearly everyone values to one degree or another. (even tho yes, we value it differently and disagree on how much everyone actually does value it).

Thanks for taking an interest.

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Patrick August 29, 2010 at 12:05 pm

matth- See… I’d actually make the argument that people care far, far less about fertilized egg cells than they claim. For example, best estimates are that somewhere between 1/5 and 1/2 of all fertilized egg cells spontaneously abort, typically before the woman knows she’s pregnant. If you actually placed significant value on fertilized egg cells, you would be distraught by this fact. The same goes for society. And yet as far as I can tell, not a single dollar of medical research has ever been spent on the early detection of pregnancy and on countermeasures to prevent this sort of spontaneous abortion from occurring.

I think what’s really going on is that people have a sort of amorphous view of how the world ought to work, and for some people, abortion interferes with their vision of how the world should go.

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Lorkas August 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm

“Okay, I’m not disagreeing that many people DO attach value to a zygote all the way through, but I’m claiming that a) many people don’t, and b) if they do, they’re wrong.”

I’m not so sure it’s your place to say that another’s values are “wrong” or “right”.

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MichaelPJ August 29, 2010 at 2:43 pm

@Lorkas

Hum? People pass judgement on other people’s values all the time. A large part of the abortion debate consists of angry people yelling at each other that their values are wrong.

In this case, for example, a reason why people might be wrong to place value in a zygote is because they think it has an immortal soul. They’re wrong about that, and that, coupled with some reasons to think a zygote is less valuable suggests to me that yes, they are wrong in this case.

@matth

Glad to hear we’re not really disagreeing that much! I never said that a zygote is completely worthless, just that at an early stage it is probably worth less than an ant, or at most a pig. Obviously, by the time it starts kicking, it’s value has increased a lot! Most abortions happen long before that point. Even at that point, though, I would argue that you’re projecting the expected value of the actual child onto it. It’s a foetus that somewhat resembles a baby, and so it is only natural to think of it like a baby. But it’s still a fetus, and as such (I think) worth less than an actual baby. Still, I’m not in favour of very late-term abortions unless there are serious exterior circumstances (mother’s life is in danger etc.).

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Rosita August 29, 2010 at 3:20 pm

@matt

I’ve had 3 fetal abortions and a delivered child whom I wanted and whom I love dearly. In your terms, that is inconsistent, but just about every woman who has an abortion has either had, or will have, a delivered child. In fact, the majority of women who have fetal abortions do so to protect the quality of life for their delivered children more than to protect their own quality of life. Others have them because the projected quality of life of the delivered child is poor. For them, this is the most ethical and responsible choice.

What you don’t seem to understand is that “the value of human life” is generally not consistent from conception, through blastoma, embyro, fetus, new-born and all the stages to old age. For medically and ethically educated women who are not greatly influenced by Catholic or Evangelical teachings, “the value of human life” is on a continuum from not important to extremely important depending on the level of consciousness, the level of self-awareness, the capacity to experience pain (all of which depend on the development of the neural system) and the projected quality of life of the individual.

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Rosita August 29, 2010 at 3:35 pm

BTW, I am old enough to recall a time when attitudes to abortion separated Protestants from Catholics. The change in thinking among Protestants over the last forty years has come about through the mixing of those from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds in the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement.

I also recall a time when few Catholic women would dare to use artificial contraception. These days there are very few Western Catholics who resort to following official Catholic dogma on this one.

Christian attitudes against divorce ruined the lives an English Prince and Princess while this generation has divorced and remarried without being kicked out of the Anglican Church. It is ironic that in the USA the Bible Belt has the highest incidence of divorce and abortions and the least religious countries have the lowest.

This is exactly the kind of change which Luke is talking about.

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drj August 30, 2010 at 6:09 am

I think the value of a presentient fetus is a lot like the value of a million dollar check (for those of us who arent millionaires) that you havent cashed yet.

Your hopes and dreams are pinned on it, you have a lot of emotional investment in it. But its still just a promisory note that you will, one day, get something of value (when it is cashed), eventually.

If the million dollar check turns out to be bogus, you technically havent lost anything of value – you still even have the possibility of that all those hopes and dreams that you had before, because of that check… they are just farther away.

Although now that I think about it… a presentient fetus is probably more like a bill for a million dollars…

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Rosita August 30, 2010 at 8:30 am

@drj

Yes, it’s something like that.

The embryo of our son was tested for genetic anomalies at 11 weeks. If that test had revealed abnormalities which we could reasonably expect to significantly impair its experience of life I would have had an abortion. I would have grieved, not for the loss of a child, but for the loss of the hope of a child.

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ildi August 30, 2010 at 10:49 am

matth: Way to move to goalposts from

Whether it be a women just finding out she is pregnant and sharing the news with family and everyone feeling a rush of emotion associated with this microscopic egg.

to

When you actually see it on the sonogram or feel it kick

by which time pretty much 90 percent of women have made the decision whether to have an abortion or not. The other ten percent either make a painful choice due to serious health risks, or due to lack of knowledge/denial about being pregnant, in which latter case the value-meter can be assumed to be set pretty low.

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ildi August 30, 2010 at 10:51 am

the goalposts

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cd August 30, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I want to get out what people actually value here. What do people actually value more than anything else in the universe? human life.

But that’s not true. We put your proposition to the test as a country in 2005 the form of Terri Schiavo. It lost.

What people do value in an ultimate way is human community of a receptive and usefully responsive kind. I.e. certain kinds of human psychological life. Every theist’s Heaven is described as containing people- if it weren’t no one would want to be there.

Frankly, even a newborn is not much of a useful or responsive member of an human community. But it is a human tradition, observed by social anthropologists, that women are not treated as full adults until they are fully committed participants in rearing children. So newborns serve to legitimate their mothers, and children are tolerated because without them their parents would become dysfunctional and lose status. (This is much of the reason traditionalist women are anti-choice: children are the only generally attainable thing that confers dignity to women in their cultural circles. If that dignity is lost by too many women not having children or no longer automatically conferred by having them, then the group is doomed to disintegrate and their own status becomes worthless.) We put a happy face on our acceptance of other peoples’ children today and pretend that their existence is selfjustifying, but that is not how things work under the hood.

In matters abortion that means that the line between where we decide we have a potential useful and desirable member of the community and where we don’t is currently already drawn very far to one one side. When we have a fetus that looks even vaguely like a newborn we’re in a great hurry to impute to it human characteristics and social legitimacy. The basis of the anti-abortion movement is to take this one step further into an occultism, to put it bluntly, that sight unseen all foeti are socially acceptable and desirable human beings in the making.

We don’t accept any similar premise as true in our immigration policy or in criminal justice or even in the question of who should marry. To scrutinize the ‘pro-life’ movement closely is to discover that the hardcore insider activists are mentally rather strange people with particular obsessions and paranoias about eugenics. (E.g. Randall Terry, who believes his mother intended to abort him out of animus at him from some kind of prenatal knowledge of his character.) It’s worth considering- whatever the merits of the argument per se- whether the movement is not at bottom driven by mentally weird people trying to ensure that other mentally weird people continue to be born.

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matth August 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm

It seems everyone who responded accepts there is a spectrum of value associated with every stage of unborn life. As we move up from newly conceived unborn life to actual baby, nearly everyone’s values start to converge. At the early stages most of you seem to think this value is extremely low. Someone said its worth no more than ant, or what ever value it holds must be weighed against other values. But it is at least encouraging that nobody said even a zygote holds no value whatsoever.

Many pro-lifers will equate a zygote to a baby, but what all of us here seem to have in common here is that we hold that unborn life has SOME value up until a certain point, and then it has as much value to us as any other human. Maybe all i am doing is saying i hold early stage unborn life to be more valuable than you, and thus wish for more people to align themselves with what i value (maybe that is all anyone does when engaged in an ethical debate).

A lot you also pointed out that many people value other things more than human life. This does seem like a rather difficult question and maybe i was wrong to say its what most people value the most. It is just that you can not value anything else if you are not even alive. (especially if you do not believe in an afterlife). If you value that people are free or virtuous or happy more than that they are alive this seems rather odd on the surface. But i can see lots of arguments about how its better to die honorably for something you believe in than to be a coward or sell out your values etc. So maybe we could just agree in today’s world, most people value human life a great deal, at around the same level as freedom or virtue or happiness. And most people think unborn life is in some very important way close to this human life we value a great deal.

Just how much value for this unborn life is actually there (how much i place on it and how much everyone else places on it) is a difficult but important question. I am not sure of the answer (now even less so) but will continue to think about it, and you guys have given me a lot to think about, thanks.

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Rosita August 30, 2010 at 8:19 pm

@matth
= = =It seems everyone who responded accepts there is a spectrum of value associated with every stage of unborn life. – - – At the early stages most of you seem to think this value is extremely low. Someone said its worth no more than ant, or what ever value it holds must be weighed against other values. But it is at least encouraging that nobody said even a zygote holds no value whatsoever. = = =

Here’s something else to think about. It is possible to place a negative value on a zygote. A woman who has conceived as the result of a rape may feel as if the developing life-form inside her is a malevolent parasite. The fact that it is a developing human makes no difference. The bastard who raped her was human, too.

It’s also possible to value a zygote for some reason that is not, or is only loosely, related to its potential to develop into a sentient human. If you happen to be a stem cell researcher then the value of a human zygote may be no different from the value of a pig zygote in areas where either could do the job.

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Kaelik August 31, 2010 at 5:03 am

@matth

“So maybe we could just agree in today’s world, most people value human life a great deal, at around the same level as freedom or virtue or happiness. And most people think unborn life is in some very important way close to this human life we value a great deal.”

No, we can’t agree to that. We already explicitly denied both those things.

When you make a big post of pretend compromise and close it with “so maybe we could just agree that all of you are wrong and I am right.” that’s dishonest and stupid, and a waste of everyone’s time.

People don’t value human life at the same amount they do freedom. Here’s a calculation. Which is better? 9 slaves and one Master, or revolting against their master and losing 5 slaves to death, but the other 4 being free.

Anyone who answers “It is better to revolt and be free” is explicitly saying that they value human freedom more than human life.

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