A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Some random items. Over 10,000 clergy have signed a statement in support of evolution. If you are a clergy person and want to add your name to the list here's the link. Also the UCC and a number of African American organizations are meeting in Atlanta to broach the topic of gay and lesbian acceptance within the African American community.

A church in TX was recently kicked out of the Southern Baptists for it's ministry and outreach program to gay and lesbians. There is also an interesting piece on how sbc conservatives are turning the guns against themselves over smaller differences now that moderates and liberals are out. Lessons for the Anglicans?

"Pro-life" groups are going after public funding of Planned Parenthoods across the country. Given the role Planned Parenthood plays in terms of contraception and sexual education, one wonders how abortion rates are supposed to decline by such a move?

I was recently quoted, sometimes badly, by our alternative newspaper over an event our campus ministry is hosting. The event is a talk by the head of the MO Coalition for Reproductive Choice. I suspect there will be a post on abortion in the next few days but in the mean time check out Chris Tessone's excellent piece on this issue.


At 6:03 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is abortion violence justified in this scenario:


At 11:59 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, it is not justified. And incidentally, here's the full link.

You may notice that GregIsWrong's scenario smuggles in Utilitarian ethics as an assumption, but Christian ethics is not Utilitarian. If you can save five people by killing one person , that doesn't justify you doing so. Or, to quote (I think) Augustine, "we may never do evil that good may come."

(Debatable exception: St Paul tells us that the State has the power of the sword to enforce justice, which makes capital punishment at least conceivably legitimate. But that doesn't excuse vigilantism.)

This is quite distinct from triage, where you have to allow some to die because you don't have the time/resources to save all of them.

At 1:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

nah i'm not suggesting utilitarianism. I'm not asking "If you can save five people by killing one person"

I'm asking "If you can save five victoms by killing one murderer aiming for them.

if zygotes are truly ensouled human beings, then tell me why not?

because its "against the law"

Would you put Harriet Tubman in jail too?

At 2:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not that it's "against the law." It's that, in Christian ethics, the State is the only one that can legitimately wield the power of the sword.

In the hypothetical instance (kill a murderer to save five people), you try everything short of killing. You don't have the authority to use force. This is very hard; it's why Christian non-violence is not usually very popular, even among Christians.

As John Howard Yoder said, we do what we can legitimately do and trust God to sort it out.

In the specific case, you do what the standard-issue abortion protesters did and do: you try to persuade women not to do it. You try to persuade the doctor not to do it. You put your body in front of the clinic door. And so forth.

As to Harriet Tubman, she practiced civil disobedience--which comes with consequences (there's nothing more stupid than someone protesting in a manner that breaks the law, then complaining when they are arrested). But Tubman also carried a pistol. Had she used it, I think she'd have been wrong.

At 2:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

so just so we're clear.

Tubman comes across a farm house in which there are 10 children tied up in a bag and screaming for the lord to save them. A white man comes up with a torch and the intent to light the bag on fire because these particular slaves have a low cotton production yield and are hence worthless.

Tubman can shoot the man and bring the 10 kids with her party to the north where they will live in freedom.

Which statement is correct:

It is right for Tubman to shoot the man and save the children.

It is wrong for Tubman to shoot the man. Let them burn and God will sort it out.

At 4:06 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I'm lost on how or why this discussion got started. The principle of legitimate authority in the excercise of force is an important and long held one. The assumption that a doctor (and a woman's life) is to be held in less regard than that of a potential person is one that needs to be argued for, not assumed. The idea that terrorizing doctors and clinics will somehow stop abortions is without basis.

At 4:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


answer the harriet tubman question first.

no cheating

At 12:13 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

In life we are confronted with multiple evils. If Tubman is required to shoot the man to save the children, it may be a lesser evil but notheless remains an evil. I don't think the comparison to the abortion question works because no persons are saved by such an action.

At 5:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

so in this scenario, harriet tubman did an evil thing?

ok cool. though you dont really believe that.

At 9:06 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2, this is anonymous 1. Dwight, thanks for your input, but you're falling back into the "sometimes we have to do evil to prevent evil" position, which has been roundly criticized by Christian ethicists of both pacifist and non-pacifist varieties.

As I understand Christian pacifism, the use of force is never justified. In the "bag o' kiddies" scenario, Tubman is not justified in shooting the man or otherwise harming him, even to save other lives. However, she is obligated to interpose herself between the man and the bag, and to do her best (ignoring or dodging the man as required) to open the bag and release the kiddies, taking whatever punishment is necessary in order to accomplish that--without defending herself.

As I understand Christian Just War theory, the State is obligated to defend the innocent. In the "bag o' kiddies" scenario, the State cannot necessarily always be there to prevent injustice, but that still does not justify vigilantism. It does justify Tubman doing whatever is necessary, short of murder, to rescue the kiddies, in graduated steps beginning with non-violence. While this is (at first) almost indistinguishable from the pacifist approach, it does lead us to the next paragraph...

In the common understanding of "self-defense" (to which a true pacifist does not subscribe), Tubman is not justified in shooting the man from a safe distance in order to save someone else, but is justified in shooting him if such is required to save her own life. The fact that she has interposed her body between the man and the "bag o' kiddies" does not justify the man attacking her; therefore she is justified in using whatever force is necessary to defend herself. This is seen even in common fantasy scenarios: you first threaten the miscreant with a gun while putting yourself between him and the victim. You don't just shoot him, unless your name is Ahnold or Sly.

But for heaven's sake--this all ignores the fact that such a situation is not one-dimensional. Are there no alternatives to shooting the fool? Even if they don't make us feel quite so righteous?

Bringing us back to the initial scenario: the man who shot the abortionist was an assassin. That is just plain wrong and can never be justified. His action did not fit into any of the 2½ scenarios presented above.

Of course we could then drag in the issue of snipers in wartime or in police work, but that's a different question because these are licensed by the State, which has the legitimate right to wield the sword. Their actions may be just, or not, given a particular situation. But a private assassin is never doing justice.

And let me be the first to extend my apologies to our host for dragging this so far off topic!

At 9:19 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, my 11-year-old often asks questions like, "Why doesn't he just shoot him in the leg?"

If you shoot someone, you shoot him center-of-mass. It's way too easy to miss if you shoot to wound, and the purpose of shooting someone is to stop him right now.

The unfortunate side effect of shooting center-of-mass is that all the vital organs are there.

This was to close off any argument that "shooting" isn't necessarily "killing." Maybe not in intent, but only a fool would not intend to kill someone he shot at.


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