Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant?

Jan 3rd, 2011 3:57 pm | By

So to return to the core of the issue that Ben was talking about - the utility of atheism for atheists, science communication, conflict as a way into discussion rather than an impediment to it, passion as a motivator. I talked to him about it at Facebook, and tried (not for the first time) to take a hard look at why I feel so strongly about the subject.

I said that I have a visceral reaction to advice about framing. I do. Why do I?

First of all, I’ve had it for a long time; maybe as long as I’ve been thinking about anything. I dislike all the manipulative “professions” – advertising, PR, political operative stuff. I dislike trickery and pandering. I dislike them in an objective sense; I think they’re harmful. I can see their utility for some purposes, but I think they do some harm in the process even so. For some jobs and vocations, they’re simply disastrous – they’re the exact opposite of what people should be doing. Scholarship, teaching, and journalism are among those vocations.

And that perhaps explains why I dislike them even more in a subjective sense – why that’s not what I want to do. I want to spend my time trying to tell the truth about things, to the best of my ability, as I see it, and all the other qualifications. I want to do that, I don’t want to coddle or manage or mollify. I also don’t want to be coddled or managed or mollified.

And I think that’s a reasonable commitment. I think the opposite commitment is more dubious, because it’s more apt to damage people’s cognitive abilities. I think in general clarity and honesty are better than tactful arrangement when it comes to public discourse.


Jan 3rd, 2011 12:22 pm | By

Tony Blair preaches the gospel according to Armstrong.

Common to all great religions is love of neighbors and human equality before God.

That’s a falsehood. I won’t even bother to elaborate, because it’s too obvious. It’s just a pious, smarmy, conventional, wishful falsehood.

Blair admits as much himself in the very next paragraph.

Unfortunately, compassion is not the only context in which religion motivates people. It can also promote extremism, even terrorism. This is where faith becomes a badge of identity in opposition to those who do not share it, a kind of spiritual nationalism that regards those who do not agree – even those within a faith who live a different view of it – as unbelievers, infidels, and thus enemies.

Which rules out both love of neighbors and equality (before “God” or otherwise). So why the bromide? Because…I don’t know, because it sounds good, I suppose.

…for those for whom religion matters, globalization can sometimes be accompanied by an aggressive secularism or hedonism that makes many uneasy.

Nice. He pairs secularism with hedonism, and labels it “aggressive” for good measure. Passive-aggressive theocracy meets “aggressive” secularism. I’ll take the latter.

Aggressive secularists and extremists feed off each other. Together, they do constitute a real challenge to people of faith.

Even nicer. He pairs secularists with Islamists and other theocratic thugs.

Happy new year to you too, Mr Blair.

Atheism and utility

Jan 2nd, 2011 2:15 pm | By

Benjamin Nelson has a very interesting post on science communication and atheism and passion at Talking Philosophy. Much of it transcribes a conversation he had with Chris Mooney in 2009, in which both of them agreed on some common ground.

…the most important point that I’m going to emphasize here is that [Mooney's] stance is self-consciously political. At least to some extent, there is a “difference in goals” between Mooney and the activist atheists — by which, I think, he means a difference in priorities. Mooney does not think that speaking out against religion is a priority, and that it is on the whole detrimental to science education; while others think it is a priority, and that it supports science education in some respect.

I think that’s right, and it is the self-consciously political aspect that I have always found somewhat alien. I say “somewhat” because I can’t possibly reject all politics. I realize one has to weigh consequences (as we were just discussing with reference to the Vatican and a life-saving abortion) and consider priorities. But I think when serious discussion becomes too entangled with politics, then it simply stops being serious discussion and turns into some form of campaigning.

I would have liked to discuss Ben’s post in situ, but I’m banned from commenting there so I can’t, so I’ll do it here.

The post was barely posted, though, before the subject was changed to “why the new atheist crowd can’t just disagree with Mooney instead of despising him.” That wasn’t what Ben was talking about, but that became part of the discussion. I’d have thought the reasons would be well known, since they were certainly discussed a lot.

Here’s one reason. The fans of Mooney argue that he is passionately concerned about climate change and other, similar issues, and that’s why his priority is better science communication right now so that voters will make better, more informed decisions. But if that is true, I don’t understand why he has refused to engage with critics and answer genuine questions. The thing is: I couldn’t do what Mooney thinks I should do even if I wanted to, because I don’t know what it is. I really don’t. That’s why I asked him, from the outset – I really didn’t know. He said Jerry Coyne’s “Seeing is Believing” was bad strategy. I thought and still think Coyne’s review is an exemplary bit of reasoned discussion. These two facts together mean that I cannot figure out what is wanted. I’m not bullshitting when I say that; I really cannot figure it out.

And that’s a puzzle. If Mooney’s thinking really were political and strategic…then he would have engaged with questions. He didn’t. That’s a puzzle.

I know this is old old news, but it’s being discussed again, and a book I co-wrote is being cited, and Ben’s post is interesting and enlightening, so here it is anyway.

What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties

Jan 1st, 2011 6:13 pm | By

I mentioned in a comment yesterday that the way bishops and theologians pride themselves on not letting compassion or empathy trump their mindless Absolute Rules reminded me of something Hannah Arendt said in Eichmann in Jerusalem -

The Nazis prided themselves on exactly that – to the point that they got maudlin about it. “Nobody knows how difficult it is for us” sort of thing. Seriously. They did a lot of quiet boasting about their ability to rise above their sympathies.

I found the passage I was thinking of – pp 105-6 in the Penguin edition.

The troops of the Einsatzgruppen had been drafted from the Armed S.S., a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of the German army…Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler – who apparently was rather strongly afflicted with these instinctive reactions himself – was very simple and probably very effective: it consisted in turning these reactions around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!

Ronald Conte, with his “no matter the cost, no matter the cost, no matter the cost,” reminds me of that kind of thinking.

Pants on fire

Jan 1st, 2011 11:58 am | By

This is an old item (December 2) but it’s only now been drawn to my attention, and I want to say about it because it’s so remarkably and revealingly malicious and inaccurate. You won’t be surprised to learn that it comes from someone who presents himself as of The Party of Nice. It is Mark Vernon, smearing Richard Dawkins, in a post ostensibly about Christmas frenzy.

(It seemed appropriate that the Guardian should launch it’s [sic] Advent calendar with a piece from that now most hysterical of writers, Richard Dawkins. Ostensibly it celebrated the moral courage of Christopher Hitchens, which I don’t doubt is worth admiring, only 50% of the piece was against the Pope, and 25% of the piece was about himself.)

Ostensibly yourself, bub.

If you look at the linked Dawkins piece, you will see for yourselves how shamelessly wide of the mark that announcement is. Two sentences are about a pope or popes. The first paragraph is partly about himself, but it’s also about newspapers, headlines, spoiling jokes, irony and hero-worship, and more. In short, it’s an introductory paragraph, which touches on various things to draw the reader in and set the scene. It’s just standard practice – it’s far from being a grotesque display of egotism, as Mark Vernon more than implies.

The entire rest of the piece – the second half of para 2 through paras 3, 4 and 5, all the way to the end – is about Hitchens.

So that’s Mark Vernon’s way with the truth.

Well of course this is an attack on gnu atheism. The rules are suspended.

Ten years ago, and last week

Dec 31st, 2010 5:27 pm | By

I was browsing through Katha Pollitt’s Subject to Debate this morning and read a great piece from September 2000, Freedom From Religion, ¡Si!

…that’s the official American civic religion at the opening of the twenty-first century: What religion you have may be your own business–rather literally so, in the case of Scientology–but it’s society’s business that you have one. Modernity may have eroded some of the distinctions between previously antagonistic belief systems–Quick! Explain the difference between Presbyterianism and Methodism!–as is suggested by the increasing replacement of the word “religion,” with its connotations of dogma and in-groupness, by the warm, fuzzy propaganda term “faith.”

See? I’m not the only one who has noticed the replacement and thinks it’s a plot of warm fuzzy propaganda.

Facing the common enemy, secularism, devout Christians and Jews dwell lovingly on their similarities as part of a “Judeo-Christian” ethos, when historically the ethos of each faith was precisely that it wasn’t the other…

Yep. Ten years on, that hasn’t changed. (It’s probably more defensive though, thanks to the scary gnu atheism.)

Because the most energetic religions tend to be the ones most invested in keeping women subordinate, women in particular have nothing to gain from the burgeoning involvement of religion in the public sphere. The wave of mergers between Catholic and secular hospitals is already depriving women of crucial reproductive services, from contraception and abortion to in vitro fertilization and the morning-after pill, even for rape victims. Indeed, wherever you look, religion is the main obstacle to providing women with modern reproductive healthcare: The fig leaf of “conscience” becomes a justification for denying others basic human services. Thus the Catholic Church throws its weight against making health insurers cover contraception (Viagra’s fine, though) and anti-choice pharmacists claim the right to refuse to dispense birth control, emergency contraception or, should it be approved by the FDA, RU-486.

And if the bishops had their way, abortions would be illegal and ruled out even for women who would die without them. I’m hoping Katha will light into the bishop of Phoenix.

Happy new year, all.

No one is permitted to ask

Dec 31st, 2010 1:10 pm | By

Eric has an excellent post on Catholic casuistry, compassion, and authority today. It’s a bit like Google Earth, examining this subject – we get closer and closer and closer. The closer we get, the more ridiculous Karen Armstrong’s claim that compassion is central becomes. Compassion is not only not central, it’s nowhere. Compassion is beside the point altogether.

Ronald Conte, as I pointed out yesterday, simply says what the rules are, over and over again, and quotes popes also saying what the rules are. He quotes JP2 saying what they are:

Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral…

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law…

Authority and obedience are the issue here, not compassion, not the needs and sorrows of the pregnant woman and her four young children, but the authority of an imaginary god and that imaginary god’s putative representatives.

In the same passage, the pope said something perhaps even more chilling:

Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly…

No matter what the torture, no matter how certain the end, no one is permitted to request escape. We’re not even allowed to ask. This is the demand for absolute authority run totally amok.

I saw the start of some adventure or espionage movie on tv not long ago – I didn’t watch the rest and don’t know what it was, but the opening was striking: a father and his daughter and son were mountain climbing, the father lowest down on the rope; he fell and pulled the other two off with him, and then the pitons started to pull out of the rock. The drop was huge, survival impossible – but the younger two could almost reach a hold – but not quite. The father cut the rope above his head while the daughter and son screamed at him “No no no no don’t!”

Was that “immoral”? Please.

A dab more theology

Dec 30th, 2010 6:01 pm | By

I’m reading Ronald Conte’s laying down of the law more calmly and thoroughly, and along with the vicious brutality of it, another thing that strikes me is the plain stupidity. It doesn’t jump out at you at first, partly because the vicious brutality takes up most of your attention, but also because the sober language obscures it; but after awhile it becomes more salient. It is just stupid. There’s nothing to it but repetition and insistence. He says the same thing over and over, interpersed with popes saying it. It’s just a long long string of stupid assertions – which if heeded of course can ruin people’s lives.

This is the bit I was reading when the stupidity started to waft off the page like a smell:

In the Phoenix abortion case, the abortion was willed as a means to save the life of the mother; saving a life was the good intended end. And the circumstances were such that the abortion resulted in the good consequence that her life was saved. However, the end does not justify the means. Intrinsically evil acts are never transformed into good acts by intention, no matter how noble, nor by circumstances, no matter how dire.

See? It’s just dumb. Does not; are never; no matter how. Sonorous, and stupid. It’s not like that. It’s not like “that is intrinsically evil the end,” because it depends. It isn’t just yes or no, good or evil, haram or halal. It depends. It depends on exactly the kinds of things that were at stake in the Phoenix case, and just dully saying it doesn’t for thousands of words is stupid.

Every knowingly chosen act without exception is subject to the eternal moral law. If a physician decides to directly kill a patient, whether a prenatal patient, or a terminally ill elderly patient, the act is murder under the eternal moral law.

Aaaaaaaaand I have again hit my limit. That’s enough of Ronald Conte for now. He and people like him talk steely but moronic effluent about “the eternal law” while not caring in the least about real problems of real people with real lives. It’s the banality of evil all over again – the guy isn’t thinking, he’s refusing to think, he’s just self-importantly reciting Doctrine.

Good night.

There was an arrogance, an independent and defiant air

Dec 30th, 2010 12:18 pm | By

Maniacal Catholics are still explaining that the bishop was right. Gerard Nadal even explains that the bishop was right to “push back against a culture of death.” By insisting that a woman should have been allowed to die along with her fetus, the bishop was pushing back against a culture of death. How does that work?

Nadal explains the “principle of double effect” to our wondering eyes.

In essence the principle states that a lifesaving procedure that cannot be delayed, such as the removal of a cancerous uterus before the baby can be taken in a Cesarean section at viability (~25 weeks gestation), is permissible so long as the death of the baby is the indirect and unintended effect…

Such circumstances are extremely rare, given how early a baby can be delivered before full term at 40 weeks. The mother’s life must be in immediate danger and the treatment of her disease, which would also result in the death of the baby, cannot be forestalled.

Do you see what Nadal is doing there? He’s saying that if the woman’s life is in danger that is less than immediate, it is not permissable to do an abortion in order to remove or reduce the danger. He’s saying that doctors and hospitals should force women to risk their lives rather than abort an early fetus.

Keep constantly in mind that Nadal himself will never be put in danger by this policy. Neither will the bishop of Phoenix. Neither will a single one of the members of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Neither will any of the Vatican honchos who pronounce on these matters. These rules and laws and policies are created entirely by men and they apply entirely to women. Women are a subject race when it comes to the Vatican.

Patients who seek Catholic healthcare do so because of the assurance that the facility and its clinicians adhere to the ERD’s. They do so because they seek the assurance that they will be told the truth and treated in accord with Catholic moral norms, and not railroaded down the disastrous path American medicine has decided to follow.

Bullshit. Not everyone in a Catholic hospital does “seek Catholic healthcare”; lots of people are stuck with it because it’s all there is; others want some features of Catholic healthcare without signing up to every crazed item of Vatican dogma.

I opined, and was pilloried for it, that Sister McBride was presiding over a shadow healthcare system that was active in promoting an agenda that ran counter to the mission of the Church. Nobody commits first-degree murder as a first crime. No Catholic hospital administrator, especially a professed religious, signs off on such an abortion for the first time in the manner in which Sister McBride conducted herself.

He’s implying, in a deniable sort of way, that McBride committed first-degree murder.

There was an arrogance, an independent and defiant air about it that pointed to something deeper and darker, something that would eventually come to light.

Aha! Now we have it! A god damn woman had an arrogant independent defiant air, and that points to something deeper and darker, which is female independence in general. Kill the beast! Mark its forehead!

Godless women

Dec 29th, 2010 5:20 pm | By

Jen McCreight has a second Most Influential Female Atheist contest, and I’m nominated again, which is my reward for being notoriously obnoxious, which I would be even without a reward, but rewards make it even more fun.

But other sweller more influential people are also nominated, and you get three votes, so vote. Allow me to put in a plug for Maryam Namazie, who rocks. They all rock, but allow me to put in a plug for Maryam anyway.

So long and thanks for all the links

Dec 29th, 2010 5:02 pm | By

It’s sad about Denis Dutton. ALDaily is all in black.

Denis was a friend to B&W, from very early in its career – about three months into it, I think. He added it to Favorites, and soon after that he started linking to articles. He helped B&W get an audience.

It is melancholy that he’s gone.

The relevant self-development training modules will be helpful

Dec 29th, 2010 11:27 am | By

The US Army requires its soldiers to have something called “spiritual fitness.”

The US Army distributes a mandatory survey called an SFT, which stands for “Soldier Fitness Tracker”.  The purpose of this survey is to measure an individual soldier’s competency in four areas, Emotional, Social, Family and Spiritual.

Yes really.

Here is what they tell someone who scores badly in that last area:

Spiritual fitness is an area of possible difficulty for you. You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles, and values. Nevertheless, who you are and what you do matter. There are things to do to provide more meaning and purpose in your life. Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal. Change is possible, and the relevant self-development training modules will be helpful.

Extraordinary, isn’t it? The dreaded gummint instructing people in how to have a sense of meaning and purpose? The gummint imposing a particular sense of meaning and purpose on a very captive audience?


Dec 29th, 2010 11:09 am | By

This is very trivial, but quite funny in a way. Remember “steph” who derailed the “F word” thread last week with endless passive-aggressive rambling about gnu atheism and New Zealand? And then suddenly at the end went all cuddly and we can get along? No, you probably don’t, because you probably stopped reading that thread when she derailed it, and quite right too.

But if you do, you might be amused to learn that she didn’t really mean the cuddly part. She derailed someone else’s thread – some theology type – to say how horrible I am. Apropos of absolutely nothing. I mean, it’s like a clown suddenly appearing in the middle of a sober newscast. Wha?? Truly funny.

as someone who doesn’t subscribe to any camps or societies (apart from being a member of NZ Green Party and Greenpeace..), what do you mean by the atheist ‘Camp’? Are you suggesting a ‘camper’ as one who would affiliate themselves with the likes of the religious ignorances of Dawkins and co and well as the obnoxious rhetoric of the apparently notorious ‘Ophelia Benson’

Etc etc etc.

The fluffy ones are always so funny – pretending to be all Warm and Goodhearted and Sweet while actually brimming over with malice. Me, I just plain brim over with malice; it’s so much quicker that way.

Blindfold the cow and everything will be fine

Dec 28th, 2010 5:07 pm | By

Amir Afkhami, an American psychiatrist, gets to meet a “faith-healer” in Iraq and watch him doing his stuff.

The path of a faith healer is arduous, Mullah Eskandar told us, speaking in Kurdish. “Such a calling,” he said, “is best reserved for a religious and spiritual man.”

Right. Religious and spiritual because there is no actual knowledge or technical skill involved, and man because it’s women who get fucked up by misogynist religions and traditions. Totally makes sense.

He went on to recount his 15-year apprenticeship to a renowned senior healer, who taught him the basics of spiritual treatment and the essentials of Koranic law and prophetic traditions. His description reminded me of my own long and difficult years in medical school and residency training.

Except for the difference in the acutal substance of what you learned compared to what Mullah Eskandar learned.

“Over 80 percent of my patients are females,” he continued. “They struggle with insomnia, headache, depression and marital problems.”

Gee I wonder why!

“Ours is like your profession, which has both good and bad doctors,” he continued: “those who care about patients and those who are in it for worldly rewards.”

Nooooo, not exactly. The difference between good and bad doctors isn’t just caring.

The first patient to enter his reception room was a young woman in red flowing garb typical of the rural inhabitants of eastern Kurdistan…Like most unmarried Iraqi women, she was accompanied by family: a heavy-set, mustachioed father and a watchful mother.

The mother explained that the day her daughter became engaged to a relative, she had developed fainting fits, nightmares, foul moods and an inability to walk. Her family had consulted a general practitioner, who referred them to a neurologist, to no avail. She continued to faint at the talk of marriage — even became agitated at the prospect of her younger sister’s impending betrothal.

Yes. She doesn’t want the marriage. The way to cure her is to call off the marriage and let her run her own life.

But the mullah didn’t suggest that. He

began to chant a Koranic verse into her right ear, imploring God’s help and warning of the devil’s temptations.Then he explained that the young woman was possessed by a jinn, one of the race of evil spirits that the Koran blames for sowing mischief and illness in the world — in this case, spreading discord in the young woman’s family by disrupting her marriage. To banish the jinn, Mullah Eskandar prescribed a regimen of prayers, daily bathing and rosewater perfume. And he counseled the patient on the responsibilities of a daughter to marry and the happiness that awaited her once she had a family of her own.

It struck me that Mullah Eskandar’s rituals, particularly his reassuring counsel, appeared to mimic our oft-practiced supportive therapy in Western medicine. His authoritative opinion and his apparent empathy, coupled with his ability to realign the young woman’s vision to a more positive outlook, appeared to give her some degree of comfort immediately.

Well isn’t that sweet. The mullah conned the young woman into resigning herself to her horrible unwanted fate, and the American psychiatrist watched in cheery approval. The mullah talked away some of the young woman’s symptoms while leaving the cause entirely untouched, and the medical professional was impressed.

I’m not.

Catholic thanatophilia

Dec 28th, 2010 2:21 pm | By

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops insists on exactly the same murderous policy that the rebarbative bishop of Phoenix does. The CCB is very clear about it. The CCB doesn’t mess around.

“Surgery to terminate the life of an innocent person, however, is intrinsically wrong… Nothing, therefore, can justify a direct abortion. No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.”

No circumstance whatsover, including the circumstance that the fetus is already doomed and will not survive no matter what, can make it licit to remove the placenta to prevent the woman’s death, since it is contrary to something that does not exist.

The bishops don’t know that there is such a thing as “God” or that it exists or ever has existed. They don’t know what the “Law” of that “God” is. They know nothing whatsoever about it. They know they’ve been told things, but anyone can tell anyone anything, and often does. Mere telling is not enough, especially when ordering medical workers to let patients die on the authority of the telling.

The putative law of the putative God is not “written in every human heart.” It’s not written in mine, and the bishops have no business saying it is. They’re bullshitting, and they’re doing it in aid of backing up a rule that would let women die when they could be saved, on the grounds that their fetus can’t be saved too.

Defenders of this revolting policy are bullshitting, if not outright lying, too: they are calling this policy a “right to life” policy, but of course it’s not, because the whole point is that it kills a woman and a fetus instead of only a fetus. That’s not “pro-life.” This policy results in the death of an adult, not life for a fetus.

Regardless of the cost, regardless of the cost, regardless of the cost

Dec 27th, 2010 11:04 am | By

Let’s see if I can force myself to read and comment on some of the horrible dogmatizing of Catholic theologian Ronald Conte. I could manage only about three paragraphs on the first attempt.

The subject of his anathema is “M. Therese Lysaught’s grave doctrinal error.” He notes that she points out that the fetus was doomed no matter what, that

it was not a case of saving the mother or the child. It was not a matter of choosing one life or the other.

Then he spends the rest of the long piece saying fuck that.

He quotes JP2 saying it’s disobedience to God’s law. He quotes the catechism. He insists on the (authoritarian and theocratic) claim that some acts are inherently evil no matter what the intentions and circumstances, period.

The intentionally-chosen act is the removal of the prenatal from the mother prior to viability, and this act is inherently ordered toward the death of the prenatal. The prenatal dies as a direct result of his or her removal. The inherent moral meaning of this act is the killing of an innocent prenatal. In other words, the essential moral nature of the act is murder. No creative explanation can change the fact that the death of the prenatal results directly from his or her removal and that this removal was intentionally chosen. The good intention to save the life of the mother, and the good consequence that one life is saved instead of two lives being lost, cannot change the moral object from evil to good.

Because it’s murder. That’s what “murder” means. It’s bad. The end.

In the Phoenix abortion case, the abortion was willed as a means to save the life of the mother; saving a life was the good intended end. And the circumstances were such that the abortion resulted in the good consequence that her life was saved. However, the end does not justify the means. Intrinsically evil acts are never transformed into good acts by intention, no matter how noble, nor by circumstances, no matter how dire.

It would have been morally good to let the woman die along with the fetus and leave four young children to deal with that however they could. Consequences are beside the point. Outcomes are beside the point. There was an unconscious undeveloped fetus with no plans or thoughts or memories or ties, inside the woman, therefore the woman had to be allowed to die and the fetus’s conscious thinking feeling siblings had to be bereft. Period.

Pope John Paul II taught that there is no room for ‘creativity’ in the moral determination of intrinsically evil acts; such acts are irremediably evil. In the case of direct abortion, we cannot find some creative explanation that would justify the act and save the life of the mother. We can only evaluate the moral object, and refuse to willingly choose any act of direct abortion, regardless of the cost, regardless of the cost, regardless of the cost.

Ok, that’s it, that’s all I can read.

A doomed effort

Dec 27th, 2010 10:21 am | By

A Catholic woman priest is trying to convince herself that the bishop of Phoenix didn’t mean what he of course necessarily did mean. She’s not having an easy time of it.

When I was a teen, I saw a movie that depicted a bishop, the brother of a pregnant woman, who loved his sister, but when the chips were down and it was her life or the baby’s life, the choice was his to make and he chose the baby. I will never forget how horrible I felt that his sister was powerless in this situation, and that the decision was her brother’s to make.

Quite – and in the bishop’s case, it wasn’t even a matter of choosing the baby, because that choice wasn’t available. It was a matter of choosing – insisting – that the fetus and the mother should die instead of the fetus only.

So today, here we are again, reflecting on the controversy surrounding the mother in Phoenix whose life was saved by the the ethical team at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital. As directive 47 indicates, one is obliged to save both lives, but if that is not possible then the moral principle is to save the life that can be saved. Surely, Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix is not implying that the hospital should have let the mother die when her life not only could be but was saved! Hopefully, Bishop Olmsted, Bishop Niederauer will clarify their positions in this kind of tragic situation when pregnant women’s lives are at risk.

Oh yes he is – that’s exactly what he’s implying, or rather, simply saying. He knows perfectly well that that’s the issue, because that is the issue. It can hardly have escaped his attention!

The Church and her bishops have a heightened moral responsibility

Dec 26th, 2010 5:23 pm | By

Mark Jones found the confirmation I was looking for, in the shape of the letter the bishop of Phoenix wrote to the president of Catholic Healthcare West. It is unbelievably disgusting.

He’s pissed off that the president of CHW told him that this is a complex matter on which the best minds disagree – not, as one might hope, because he thinks there should be no disagreement on whether or not a pregnant woman should be allowed to die along with her fetus rather than prevented from dying at the expense of her fetus, but because he is The Bishop.

In effect, you would have me believe that we will merely have to agree to disagree. But this resolution is unacceptable because it disregards my authority and responsibility to interpret the moral law and to teach the Catholic faith as a Successor of the Apostles.

His responsibility, that is, to order doctors to let a woman die. Because he is a Successor of the Apostles.

The decisions regarding life and death, morality and immorality as they relate to medical ethics are at the forefront of the Church’s mission today. As a result, the Church and her bishops have a heightened moral responsibility to remain actively engaged in these discussions and debates.

So that they can do their level best to compel hospitals to refuse to save the lives of pregnant women.

While the issues discussed in the moral analysis you provided are certainly technical and deeply philosophical, they are also foundationally “theological.” And the theology of the Catholic Faith, as concretized in the Code of Canon Law, dispels any doubt whose opinion on matters of faith and morals is decisive for institutions in the Diocese of Phoenix.

Me! Me me me me me me me! Do you understand? Me, the Bishop! My opinion is decisive! Not yours! Mine! I am the boss and you have to do what I say.

It goes on like that for four horrible pages. This from a church that protects priests who fuck children!

I feel dirty.

Episcopal evil

Dec 26th, 2010 12:54 pm | By

The ACLU letter to the administrators of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says something I hadn’t known, something quite staggering. The trouble is, I haven’t been able to find it anywhere else, so I can’t be sure it’s accurate. I would email the ACLU to ask, but they say they get too much mail to answer.

…just last week it was revealed that the Bishop of Phoenix threatened to remove his endorsement of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center – where, as discussed in our previous letter, doctors provided a life-saving abortion to a young mother of four in November 2009 – unless the hospital signed a written pledge that it would never again provide emergency abortion care, even where necessary to save a woman’s life.

 You see why that’s staggering. It says that the bishop demanded that the hospital sign a written pledge not to do an abortion even where necessary to save a woman’s life – the bishop explicitly demanded that the hospital let a woman die rather than do an abortion. I knew he’d been saying that in effect all along, but I didn’t know he’d been willing to spell it out himself.

[pause to say - fuck I hate these bastards. I hate them I hate them I hate them.]

At any rate, even without confirmation of that part, he said way more than enough. The Phoenix diocese kindly makes his saying available to us. It’s disgusting.

…earlier this year, it was brought to my attention that an abortion had taken place at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. When I met with officials of the hospital to learn more of the details of what had occurred, it became clear that, in the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld; but that the baby was directly killed, which is a clear violation of ERD #45.

There was no baby. There was a future baby inside the body of the woman who was on the point of death. It wasn’t possible to uphold “the equal dignity of mother and her baby” because the mother had fatally high blood pressure.

In this case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed. This is contrary to the teaching of the Church (Cf. Evangelium Vitae, #62).

That’s just outright dishonest. A healthy 11-week-old baby is just that, it’s not a fetus of 11 weeks. Does the bishop consider a newborn infant a 9-month-old baby?

Not to mention of course that treating the disease without killing the fetus wasn’t an option, so it’s dishonest of this reactionary woman-hating theocrat to imply that it was.

The president of St Joseph’s hospital, Linda Hunt, pointed out that it wasn’t an option.

“If we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible, we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case,” Hunt said. “Morally, ethically, and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”

But that is exactly what the bishop is demanding that they do, and exactly what he is making a condition of the hospital’s “Catholic” status. You don’t get to call yourself “Catholic” unless you’re willing to let a woman die along with her fetus rather than kill the fetus to save the woman. (Notice that the bishop neglects to mention that the fetus dies either way. He’s not even demanding that they let the woman die to save the fetus, he’s demanding that they let her die to make a point.)

Dr. Charles Alfano, chief medical officer at the hospital and an obstetrician there, said Olmsted was asking the impossible from the hospital.

“Specifically the fact that he requested we admit the procedure performed was an abortion and that it was a violation of the ethical and religious directives and that we would not perform such a procedure in the future,” he said. “We could not agree to that. We acted appropriately.”

That’s close to a confirmation of the ACLU item. I don’t doubt the ACLU item, I just would like to see it in writing somewhere else.

Catholic News Service gives a slightly evasive account.


The evidence is not absent

Dec 25th, 2010 12:34 pm | By

 Josh Rosenau says my post on how gnu atheism can Help is an exercise in sugary saccharine vigorous self-back-patting, and also lacking in evidence. It’s nice of him to Reach Out, but his reading is rather sloppy.

If she’d said that these effects might well follow, I’d have no real argument. They might (and also might not, I don’t know). The initial claim that gnus have already rendered religion “not altogether intellectually respectable” strikes me as the weak point in this argument, though.

Yes but the claim is not mine. I didn’t claim that. My claim overall is pretty much that “these effects might well follow.” I didn’t say that gnus have already rendered religion “not altogether intellectually respectable”; I said

One thing gnu atheism is doing is relentlessly pointing out that religious belief is not altogether intellectually respectable. That means that religion no longer offers such a desirable kind of identity. It means the identity aspect is more mixed.

That’s a pretty hedged, undogmatic claim. It’s undeniable, surely, that gnu atheism is relentlessly pointing out that religious belief is not altogether intellectually respectable – that is precisely why we get shouted at, isn’t it? That’s why we are gnu? That’s why we are Not Helping? It’s debatable that that means that religion no longer offers such a desirable kind of identity, to be sure, but we have heard and read plenty of people saying exactly that, and lots of others implicitly acting on that conclusion. Why else is Karl Giberson so exercised about Jerry Coyne? And saying the identity aspect is more mixed – well is that a very dramatic claim either? I don’t think so. That, again, is what gets people pissed off, surely. We keep pointing out that religion isn’t %100 wonderful and Helpful and desirable.

Absent some sort of evidence that religion is less intellectually respectable now than it was 10 years ago, this first step in Ophelia’s logical chain fails, and the conclusions go with it.

The backlash is the evidence. The flood of books and articles and blog posts and Facebook updates and tweets all yelling with rage at the very idea that belief in God is fatuous. That’s the evidence. I didn’t say the effect was universal, and of course I don’t think it is. But it certainly exists.

Jerry Coyne also responds to Josh.