Friday, June 5, 2009

Byron on the Tiller Case

My friend Byron brought to my attention the article to which I linked yesterday concerning George Tiller's murder. Concerned that readers may get the misimpression that he agreed with the writer of the piece, he sent me an email unambiguously stating his position. It's a very good summary of what has been the overwhelming pro-life response to this episode, and I want to post it here so that everyone will see it.

Byron writes:

As always, you have a knack for getting at important things in ways to make us think. The philosophy teacher in you helps us think through arguments and claims and consequences. Thanks.

Since my name was mentioned as the one who sent you the piece about the ethics of the murder of Tiller, I thought I should say--for the record, since it is such a controversial and weighty matter--that I do not believe that those who follow Jesus should ever take up violence since he plainly taught his followers to be non-violent. Of course I realize that this is in the minority view in church history and although I am not anabaptist, I think the Mennonites and others of that sort get it right on this one. Christians must "overcome evil with good" and so therefore I think this author is dead wrong.

I wouldn't want anyone to think that I sent it to you because I agreed with it, although it is witty and thoughtful. And, if one thinks that killing is a legitimate thing to do to try to stop killing, then this is the quandary you are in. (The author does not advocate vigilante violence,but not because violence is wrong, but because it seems to be declaring war upon the state, violates the just war doctrine, and because it would only create more persecution.) I admire your honesty to face it, although I pray that this author, you and your readers don't take your ponderings too seriously. This is no time for more violence or armchair speculations in favor of violence. This is a time to be consistently pro-life.

Let us speak with one clear voice. Let us, as the Bible instructs, avoid even the appearance of evil. The murder of Mr. Tiller, no matter how horrendous the deeds of the doctor were, was wrong. Period.

I want to say this so clearly because it needs said, and I am glad that most pro-life organizations have been unqualified and clear in condemning this brutal assassination. Yet, the pro-choice community and some in the media have suggested otherwise. Let's not give them anything to wonder about: those who oppose abortion intend to turn around our culture through the long hard work of persuasion, cultural reformation, religious revival, innovative legislation and any other peaceful and legitimate means, but never, ever, by murder.

Surely Byron is correct if the resort to violence is always and absolutely wrong, as those in the pacifist tradition maintain it to be.

My difficulty is in understanding claims such as By makes in the last sentence of his penultimate paragraph when they're made by non-pacifists. If one does not believe that violence is always wrong then what are the justifications for its use? It seems to me that those in the pro-life camp (in which I place myself) are very vague about this. I think Byron would argue that this is one reason we should all be pacifists, but many if not most pro-lifers are not pacifists and would probably reject the suggestion that they should be. In any event, pacifism leads to conundrums of its own which are equally as perplexing and intractable.

If the pro-lifer, then, declines to embrace an absolute abjuration of violence, under what circumstances does he/she think it proper? If it's wrong to employ it to defend the lives of children about to be born then when would it ever be right?

It seems to me that pro-lifers who decline the pacifist option are on the horns of a dilemma: Either killing late-term fetuses, contrary to what many pro-lifers insist, is not really tantamount to murder, or it is tantamount to murdering innocent children, and those who are willing to risk all to prevent this atrocity are justified in their resort to violence.

I really don't like any of these alternatives myself and would welcome insight from our readers, particularly those who consider themselves pro-life. What do you think? Should all pro-lifers embrace an absolute pacifism? Should they back off from their claim that a late-term fetus is ontologically and morally indistinguishable from a new-born? Or should pro-lifers acknowledge that though violence may not be a prudent tactic in the struggle to end the abortion regime in this country, it is nevertheless neither an immoral nor evil one?

Blaise Pascal advised us that our first moral obligation is to think clearly. There are no issues concerning which it is more important that we fulfill that obligation than those issues dealing with human life.


Re: John Calvin's Theological Legacy

Almost three years ago I did a post on Calvinist theology and invited comments. A reader recently came across the post and chose to respond. His thoughtful email can be found on our Feedback page.


Pick the Right Fight

In the last couple of days several conservative talk show personalities have been engaging in much hand-wringing over President Obama's recent statement that:

"... if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world."

It's time for those who are outraged by this to calm down. It's clear, to me at least, that what Obama was saying is that the United States has a Muslim population greater than that of most Muslim nations, just as our Jewish population is roughly equal to that of Israel. This should not be regarded as an incendiary claim. As it happens, like a lot of what the President says, this assertion is factually inaccurate (We have a Muslim population that ranks about 35th in the world), but it's not nefarious. He wasn't, as critics like Sean Hannity are alleging, proclaiming that we're a "Muslim nation," and for them to make an issue of this makes them look silly.

Conservatives only erode their credibility when they insist on trying to put the worst possible construction on their opponents' words. It makes them look petty and partisan and costs us a fair hearing when larger matters are at stake.

One such larger matter is raised by the words of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor:

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Here criticism is completely warranted. This is a claim she has made on more than one occasion, and it clearly reveals a mindset that's simply unacceptable in a Supreme Court justice. As many have pointed out, if these words had been uttered by a white male nominee he would have been forced to withdraw within hours of the words having come to light.

To suggest that because I am of a particular gender and ethnic heritage I will do a better job of interpreting the Constitution and dispensing justice than someone who is of a different gender and ethnicity is as clear an example of sexist, racist bigotry as one can expect to find outside the meeting halls of, say, the Aryan Nation.

No one who thinks she's better qualified than others to judge the law because she's an Hispanic female should be seated on the Supreme Court, and her appointment tells us much, not only about her, but also about the man who nominated her.


Senator DeMint and GOP Corporatism

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina heads the Senate Steering Committee, made up of the Senate's most conservative Republicans, and is a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. In a fine essay in the Washington Times he has some excellent advice for his party. The short version: Get out of bed with the corporate elites.

DeMint puts his finger on a festering problem in the GOP - they've abandoned their conservative principles in order to appease the corporate power-brokers. Here's part of what he writes:

Earlier this month, the United States Chamber of Commerce handed out its annual "Spirit of Enterprise" awards to those members of Congress who voted with the Chamber 70 percent of the time on its most important legislative initiatives of 2008. The only four Republican senators who did not receive the award were Jon Kyl, Jeff Sessions, Jim Inhofe and me - four of the most conservative members of the Senate.

What were the conservative offenses? We opposed the failed bailouts and stimulus. Which explains why many liberal Democrats scored higher, including Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Republican who scored lowest of all - that is, the Republican lawmaker supposedly least aligned with the nation's business community - was Ron Paul, a strong constitutionalist famous for his strict adherence to a free-enterprise libertarian philosophy.

There is, in these facts, an important insight into the current unpopularity of the Republican Party. In an era of corporate welfare - which is lately taking on the characteristics of 1930s-style corporatism itself - the interests of big business are veering away from the interests of economic freedom and toward the interests of big government. Many Republicans in the past decade have followed a similar course, and the party - and our country - have paid dearly for the wrong turn.

Republicans were not a party of economic elites as much as they were a party of economic freedom. They represented a clear, philosophical contrast to the watered-down socialism of the Democrats. Even when Republicans fell short on their promises of limited government, Americans believed the promises to be sincere nonetheless.

Where Mr. Reagan fought to deregulate in the interests of industry competition, many recent Republican leaders have sought to regulate in the interests of industry leaders. That is why the lobbying industry has grown so successful in recent years: For the first time, both parties have become receptive to special interest pleadings.

Republicans shouldn't be the party of business any more than they should be the party of labor - we're supposed to be the party of freedom. We should get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace. We should not care who wins in fair fights between Microsoft and Apple, between CitiGroup and community banks, or between Home Depot and mom-and-pop hardware stores. All we should demand is a fair fight.

It is none of the government's business - let alone the Republican Party's - whether banks make or deny risky loans, but only that we ensure lenders and borrowers bear the consequences of their own decisions.

Republicans will succeed again when we realize our true allegiance is not to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but to free markets, free people and freedom itself.

There's more good stuff from DeMint at the link, and his point is well taken. Too many corporate CEOs masquerade as economic free-marketeers, but they're really not. They're corporatists who welcome all sorts of government intervention into the marketplace because, among other reasons, those interventions make it harder for pesky smaller companies to compete, leaving the market as the exclusive grazing grounds of the wealthy giants. So far from being appalled at the idea of a marriage between business and government, the very relationship that Mussolini contrived in Italy and the Nazis duplicated in Germany, too many Republican politicians think that such an illicit union can only make the engines of commerce thrum with greater resonance, and they're only too happy to facilitate it.

It's, in fact, a symptom of what's wrong with the Republican party and why they're losing elections. They're simply indistinguishable from liberal Democrats.