Chronic Spiritual Amnesia

How do I so often forget, Lord, that I am a child of the Most High?

I am caught up in the world, ensnared by anxieties – why am I so miserable?  How is it that your light does not always break through?

I have seen pictures of your country, in my dreams.  It is a brilliant place, and the lights never go out.  I would make for it now if you let me.

It is selfish, though, and unbecoming.  Indeed, when my vision is so narrow that I cannot see beyond myself, the light cannot break in.  They are all but shut.

When it expands, though, and is agile among my children and family, and my friends and neighbors, then the light comes in.  More than I can stand without bowing a little, and shielding them.

What a great irony!

It must be so while tied to my nature, fallen.  I groan for freedom.

On Fear and Phobia

With the onset of the Syrian refugee crisis, I’ve had the chance to talk to three liberals in three days about the subject.  Catholics, of course, are neither liberal nor conservative, but Orthodox.  Contemporary American political divisions will pass away, and Catholicism will live on.*

Nevertheless, each one was liberal – don’t worry ladies, I won’t share your names! – and each one was a lady.  (While I do think liberalism is more suited to the female genius, the statement of their sex is neither here nor there).

What really stood out to me was that each one attributed an irrational fear or hatred to those who disagreed with their position.  That is, an -ism or a -phobia.

Indeed, each chose their own flavor:  Racism, Islamophobia, and Xenophobia.

Now, I think this is an issue on which reasonable people can disagree.  On balance, I think integrating refugees into a foreign country and creating a safe zone near their own country is just about six of one, half-dozen of the other.  I’m inclined toward the latter.  (Feel free to disagree).

In my conversations, though, that was beside the point.  I wasn’t trying to convince them of my policy decision.  I was trying to convince them that the mere fact of disagreement did not indicate an irrational fear or hatred of anything.

Now the Right has its own problems, but the Left uses these terms in order to shut down conversation, not to foster it, and certainly not to persuade.  The goal is to coerce via social pressure.  (“You don’t want to be irrational, do you?  You certainly don’t want to be made a pariah…”)  But if you look around, that social pressure is losing steam.

That was my leading point to them.  If you keep this up, sooner or later, the response will be “I don’t care.”  Often enough, it already is.

Person A:  But that’s racist!

Person B:  I don’t care.

Once “racism” or any of the others enters the conversation, Person B realizes he cannot successfully defend himself against the charge.  There is literally nothing he can say to get himself acquitted.  (Againprove. me. wrong).  That is why this strategy has worked so well for the Left.  But as I say, it’s not working as well anymore, and the other side is quickly learning to simply ignore them.**

So in each conversation, I challenged my interlocutor to define her term.  Then, carefully, I set out to challenge the notion that irrationality was to blame for all opposing views.

For example:  Is it always irrational for a nation with sufficient wealth to refuse to help the Syrian refugees in any way?

Or:  If the Right is proposing a religious test rather than a race test, doesn’t that eliminate “racism” as a motivation?  You should at least ridicule them accurately!

(Argument ad absurdum is not only a fallacy, but establishes the ground rules of a debate).

If you’re a Liberal, that’s fine.  But this stuff is getting old.  What’s worse:  You’re making yourself irrelevant, even to President Obama.

Come make an argument, not an accusation.


*It strikes me that even my secular friends will acknowledge this is as true.

**Often enough, being called an “-ist” or a “-phobe” is seen as a badge of honor.

Readings from October 29, 2015

Reading 1 Rom 8:31b-39

Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us.
Who will condemn?
It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised,
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
As it is written:For your sake we are being slain all the day;
we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Gospel Lk 13:31-35

Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said,
“Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you.”
He replied, “Go and tell that fox,
‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow,
and on the third day I accomplish my purpose.
Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day,
for it is impossible that a prophet should die
outside of Jerusalem.’“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,
how many times I yearned to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
but you were unwilling!
Behold, your house will be abandoned.
But I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say,
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.


Can there be anything better than the King of the kings coming down in human form and referring to a local, debauched ruler as a fox?

Today we see the broad outlines of the power of God and His intended exercise of that power.  And any time you talk about the power of God, you’re also talking about the free will of men.

In the lament of Jesus, we see that God Himself has longed for Jerusalem to come together, to be a shining light guiding all the world in truth and love.  But man is fallen.  It’s not just that the Jews were a little off-course, either:  When God would specially send them messengers to correct that course, exhorting them to return to the Lord their God, these same messengers – the prophets – were abused and killed.

It is amusing, then, when Christ the Prophet is cautioned that Herod wants to kill Him.  Of course Herod wants to kill Him.  That is what always happens.

But wait.  Why would an all-powerful God consent to have His prophets killed for doing His work?  Why would God permit His own Son to be killed?  Why would God even permit all of this sinfulness and wandering away at all?

The philosophy unfolds at length, but the answer is simple enough:  Love.

St. Paul lays it out:  If God is for us, who can be against us?  If we are loved – which is a love even to humiliation and death – by the all-powerful Creator, what hard or terrible thing could separate us from that love?

Name anything.*

Indeed, the only thing that could is one’s own free will.  And that is how their came to be fallen men, because God made free will inviolable.  And the reason for that is because free will makes love possible.

When God loves us (always) and we love Him (too seldomly), we have the pinnacle experience of life.  We will have the New Jerusalem.


*That is how you know there is a good God, and that there is no problem of evil to challenge His existence – redemption is possible through all things.

Readings from October 19, 2015

Memorial of Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, Martyrs

Reading 1 Rom 4:20-25

Brothers and sisters:
Abraham did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief;
rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God
and was fully convinced that what God had promised
he was also able to do.
That is why it was credited to him as righteousness.
But it was not for him alone that it was written
that it was credited to him;
it was also for us, to whom it will be credited,
who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,
who was handed over for our transgressions
and was raised for our justification.

Gospel Lk 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself
but is not rich in what matters to God.”


There is the now iconic moment when Pope Francis was asked about gay priests, and he replied, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?”

And this is often, unjustly, reduced to “Who am I to judge?”

It’s unjust because that’s not exactly what Francis was saying.  He did judge the priest, on two criteria:  That he seeks God and that he has good will.

I suggest to you that Francis was echoing – though not precisely repeating – our Lord’s words today in the Gospel.

Notice, someone brings to Jesus a worldly concern:  My brother isn’t willing to share!  Surely this violates the principles Jesus teaches, and Jesus will say something!

Likewise, see that the concern of the reporter to the Pope is a worldly one:  One’s sexual orientation.  The reporter thinks it is a real conundrum, a trap if asked the wrong way.

Jesus and Francis both realize that they are being cast as judge in these contentious worldly disputes.  Now, here’s the interesting point:  They are judges.  They are responsible for maintaining order and discipline among believers.  That requires approving some things and disapproving others – judging.


Indeed, we have seen how Francis does have criteria for judging the hypothetical gay priest; Jesus, as well, has criteria for judging the dispute before Him.

Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

In other words, Jesus is not the arbiter of worldly disputes; for Him, even if you have a legitimate claim to some possession, it might still be bad for you to have it.  He is the judge of the heart – and His criteria is that one guards against greed.

Indeed, greed exists – and only can exist – where valuable things are finite.  They are made valuable because of their scarcity.  No one is fighting over his share of oxygen, critical though it is for life.

But where Jesus is judge, the important thing is the state of one’s soul.  He judges – and will judge – that you have come up short if you are ruled by greed.  Better to be generous, which is enabled by valuing things properly.  The ultimate thing of value – grace – is exceedingly abundant (upon request) and so there can be no greed about it.

Just so, Francis cuts to the heart.  Surely the point is obvious:  As a professed celibate, sexual orientation is ephemeral to the vocation of a priest, straight or gay.*  The reporter’s concern is worldly.

What does matter – his criteria – is that the gay priest seeks God and has good will.  Why these criteria?

Like avoiding greed, seeking God has the effect of improving one’s worldly situation.  You may feel that you are losing, emotionally, if you are not practicing your sexuality; but Francis says the important thing is altogether different.  The reporter pointed down at the problem, and Francis pointed up at the answer.


This ability to look up for an answer, in spite of the troubles below, is called faith.  And that is St. Paul’s great admonition in the first reading.

“Abraham did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief;
rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God
and was fully convinced that what God had promised
he was also able to do.”

Let us seek God and cultivate good will.


*This is not to say that priests do not struggle with issues of sex or sexuality.  The discipline of the Catholic priesthood, ideally, makes it irrelevant.  Whether it is practical to depend on this is a subject for another day.

Readings for October 14, 2015

Reading 1 Rom 2:1-11

You, O man, are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment.
For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself,
since you, the judge, do the very same things.
We know that the judgment of God on those who do such things is true.
Do you suppose, then, you who judge those who engage in such things
and yet do them yourself,
that you will escape the judgment of God?
Or do you hold his priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience
in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God
would lead you to repentance?
By your stubbornness and impenitent heart,
you are storing up wrath for yourself
for the day of wrath and revelation
of the just judgment of God,
who will repay everyone according to his works,
eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality
through perseverance in good works,
but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth
and obey wickedness.
Yes, affliction and distress will come upon everyone
who does evil, Jew first and then Greek.
But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone
who does good, Jew first and then Greek.
There is no partiality with God.

Gospel Lk 11:42-46

The Lord said:
“Woe to you Pharisees!
You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb,
but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.
These you should have done, without overlooking the others.
Woe to you Pharisees!
You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply,
“Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”


Judgment weighs heavily in today’s readings, and indeed weighs heavily in the modern consciousness.

(Hypocrisy ahead)
(Hypocrisy ahead)

The modern mind finds comfort in avoiding judgment – nay, in asserting that judgment shall not be tolerated! – and, interestingly, assumes that Jesus agrees.

It must be disturbing, then, to read what Jesus has to say.

Woe to you Pharisees!

This “Woe!” strikes most people as archaic.  No one says “Woe” anymore – probably because they are too busy avoiding judgment and judging, and judges.

Yet it is terribly powerful.  It is not simply a casting of aspersion or a heaping on of shame.  It is a declaration of utter failure to meet God’s standards – indeed, of condemnation.  Far from avoiding judgment, Jesus jumps in with both (pierced) feet.

You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb,
but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.

Paying a tithe was – and is – an outward sign of devotion to God and His commands.  It is good in and of itself.  The trap, as our Lord pointed out, is that we sometimes value the approbation of others who see us tithing more than the virtue of tithing itself.  Indeed, such a person “has his reward.”

So Jesus acknowledges that the Pharisees did meet this exacting standard of God’s law.  They were doing something right.  But they spoiled it – how?

The modern mind leaps by ellipses:  “You pay no attention…to love for God.”  And this they further associate with love of neighbor, which then only means some light charity for themselves and a heavy burden on others.

But what is this?  “But you pay no attention to judgment”.

It is also translated “you neglect justice,” which is nothing more than ascribing to each what properly belongs to him.  In other words, judgment.

Now, why does the modern mind resist judgment so assiduously?

First, because it confesses no fixed moral code.  All moral goods are flexible – every word can come to mean its opposite if there is enough honey on the tongue.

Second, because in the absence of an objective moral code, the only remaining standard is social justification.  Thus, to be judged as unworthy by others, or evil, is the most severe punishment.  Better that no one should judge anyone!  And so a devious compact is implicitly signed.

This, I say, is just as evil in the Lord’s eyes as judging unjustly.  The answer to poor judgment is not “no judgment” – it is better judgment.  Perfect judgment, if you can get it.

These you should have done, without overlooking the others.

This statement captures why Catholicism is neither conservative nor liberal.  Jesus does not say that tithing is meaningless, just as he does not say that the Old Testament is useless.

Rather, he chooses not to wash before the meal because he wants to provoke a conversation, and ask the Pharisees:  Why do you wash before a meal, if your hearts are unclean?

It points to a hypocrisy; it does not give license to its opposite, which is also hypocrisy.  (That is, feeling no malice in your heart, yet neglecting to be generous to the poor).

Both!  Both are needed!  Neither is disposable.  Be generous with your heart and your wallet!  Be charitable with your words and your actions!

In the first reading, then, St. Paul has done what I have tried to do, only better.

We know that the judgment of God on those who do such things is true.
Do you suppose, then, you who judge those who engage in such things
and yet do them yourself,
that you will escape the judgment of God?

See, there is judgment that is true.  That perfect judgment we’re looking for, it comes from God Almighty – and fortunate for us that the One holding all the power also possesses all the justice!

That being the case, we only have to trouble ourselves…about ourselves.  And yet we cannot, and we lay burdens on each other because the other does not meet our own, private standards.

What is most interesting, to me, is the role of psychological projection.  That is, you are most likely to see in others precisely the sin you are guilty of.  Just when you are most sure that someone is evil, that they have committed some terrible offense – right then, check and see.  Is this something you are guilty of?  Do you struggle with the same evil?

It is quite natural, after all, to ascribe to others that which motivates you.  I may compliment a woman’s dress, and all you hear is:  What?  Go ahead and answer.

Now, what are the odds that you have correctly identified my motivation?

It is a reliable rule, and I have seen it play out with the dumb and the intelligent:  If I make a “wrong” move, and I am accused of some great fault, I can reliably determine what sin my accuser is guilty of, or where his weaknesses lie.

And if you’re paying especially close attention, you may think I have now contradicted myself.  After all – is judgment virtuous, or not?  On the one hand I say it is wanted in modern life, and on the other, I say that we are prejudiced (by our own sins) in our judgment of others.  Well, which is it?

I turn the question back to you:  Can you not see your way out of this?  Both!  Both are needed!

Readings for September 27, 2015

Reading 1 Nm 11:25-29

The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses.
Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses,
the LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders;
and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.

Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad,
were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp.
They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent;
yet the spirit came to rest on them also,
and they prophesied in the camp.
So, when a young man quickly told Moses,
“Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp, “
Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses’aide, said,
“Moses, my lord, stop them.”
But Moses answered him,
“Are you jealous for my sake?
Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”


Reading 2 Jas 5:1-6

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.

Gospel Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

At that time, John said to Jesus,
“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ,
amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”

Our priest today remarked, “Well, that’ll wake you up on a Sunday morning,” and then proceeded to preach favorably on Pope Francis.
I, of course, will not take anything away from Pope Francis – but should we have even the slightest inclination to take anything away from the message of our Lord?
Though Abraham is the father of Judaism – and also of Christianity, and also of Islam – Moses is regarded as the chief prophet and leader of the Jews.  He is the great law giver and rescuer, after all.
In fact, he is the very worldly savior of the Jews – literally rescuing them from their worldly bondage, bringing them to their promised home.  It should not surprise us to find so many ready parallels with the Savior who would follow, Christ Jesus.
Here we see both men have the same reaction to “rogue” prophets.  One of their camp – a steady loyalist in both cases – observes another working great deeds without the official sanction of his leader.  He hurries to that leader and notes the conflict in power and influence that appears to be brewing.
And in both cases – with Moses and Jesus – we see the leader say, no, this is not our enemy.  Anyone doing as we do is on our side; in fact, it is impossible that they could do these things and oppose us!  Therefore, do not trouble them.
The modern, relativistic temptation is to project this onto our own times, and say that the lesson applies across religions, perhaps even into non-religion.  But this is obviously nonsense.
There is, after all, a certain integrity to what both Jesus and Moses are saying.  It’s not a message of inclusion – it’s a message of alliances, and of a generous spirit where authentic holiness is concerned.  There is still a bar to clear, and it is high.
And the second reading, after all, does give us something of the spirit of Pope Francis – more St. Francis, by the urgency and abandon – though our Pope casts his language a bit more gently.  On the other hand, if we learn anything from Jesus in the Gospel, it is the truth, spoken harshly if necessary, which is genuine charity for sinners.

Debunking the Debunker – 6

Drawing to a close:

Common Argument #10: Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for things they find morally disagreeable.

Your Response: By that rationale, America also shouldn’t have a military, since that’s funded by taxes, and many taxpayers find American foreign policy morally disagreeable. Also, the Hyde Amendment prevents most public funds from going toward abortions. But that’s a moot point, because these are two separate arguments. Believing that abortion should be legal doesn’t require you to also believe that taxpayer dollars should fund abortions.

Again, he’s right, but then this is an odd argument to bring up.  Perhaps he has encountered it in his own discussions – and perhaps, in the course of those discussions, it somehow becomes relevant.

Naturally, the best response is to effect some change, which is why there is a March for Life every year, and which is also why abortion is one of the only issues on which Conservatives have gained ground over the last few decades.

Common Argument #11: What if your mother had aborted you?

Your Response: Well, if I’d never come into existence in the first place, I probably wouldn’t have any strong feelings on the matter. Anyway, I love my mother very much and respect her right to make whatever decisions are right for her body and life.

Well, again, this isn’t much of an argument one way or another – it’s rhetorical at best – and probably added to make Millstein’s list look more substantial.  Debunking 11 arguments sounds a lot better than debunking 6.

But have a second read of Millstein’s response.  It’s a bit stupid, no?  In fact, he has given that much more power to the meme, “Now that I’m born, I’m pro-choice!”

If I were a typical Progressive, I would tar him for his lack of compassion, and lynch him as fetalphobic.  We who resist the Progressives, however, prefer the use of reason.

Does he (retroactively, of course) respect his mother’s right-to-life when she was a fetus?  No?  Huh…one wonders what would have become of all of this praise-worthy love and respect, if his mother had been aborted, and he never conceived.

Progressives pretend that arguments end wherever they (arbitrarily) decide that they end.  But Biology determines that they end elsewhere.

And the fact is, absolutely nothing comes of it.  That is why it is part of the culture of death.

In the culture of life, untold bounties of goodness, love, respect, and intelligence are realized.  Millstein has just enough of these things to fake like he has them all.  And I honestly hope he can be open-minded and open-hearted enough to fulfill them.

Debunking the Debunker – 5

Into the home stretch…

Common Argument #8: What if Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King had been aborted?

Your Response: Are you saying abortion policy should be influenced by how good of a person a fetus ends up becoming? If that’s the case, what if Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot had been aborted?

Are you saying it’s ok to abort people who would have been good?  (Rhetorical questions can always swing back around).

Granted, this is not a particularly effective argument, neither intellectually nor emotionally; Millstein is correct about that.  But let’s answer the rhetoric:

It would have been wrong to abort all of those babies.  At the moment they were (hypothetically) aborted, they were innocent.  It is always wrong to take an innocent life.

Now, there may be an argument in suggesting that the abortion of Joseph Stalin would have been a lesser evil, compared with the evil he did; and there’s the elephant in the room – what is the role of free will here?; in any event, none of this would make abortion good.


Common Argument #9: Many women who get abortions regret their decision later on.

Your Response: This is a pretty common argument. As with shaming of teen moms, it pops up in subway ads…

…and anti-abortion rallies.

We bet you do, dude.

This is a bad argument. Should the government ban people from doing things they sometimes regret? Think of everything you’ve ever regretted — not moving after college, dating the wrong person — and ask yourself if you wish there had been a law to prevent you from doing that thing. You probably don’t, because you probably believe people should be able to choose their own paths in life regardless of whether they regret those choices later on. I agree, which is part of why I’m pro-choice.

Again, Millstein is correct:  As an argument for banning abortion, this is a bad one.  And while I have never seen a man holding that particular poster, it’s at least a legitimate (albeit lighthearted) criticism of men entering the abortion debate.  I’m not aware of any others.

And so – again – we will not seek to revive this particular argument, but deduce what it was pointing at.

Namely, people tend to regret bad decisions, not good ones.  They regret them when the look back and realize the decision was the wrong one.

It is interesting, therefore, that Millstein cites this as a reason why he’s pro-choice:  He thinks people should have room to make bad decisions (one presumes, in order to learn from them).  First, someone may want to warn him that he’s starting to sound like a conservative…

Second, I fully agree with the principle, to an extent.  And our justice system is based on the notion of proportionate punishment (certain grievances notwithstanding).

What does it say when taking an innocent born life is punished severely, but taking an innocent unborn life is “a common medical procedure”?

The regret – as many women explain – is a recognition not just that their abortion was a bad decision, but a profoundly bad decision.

As I say, Millstein is still correct.  Regret is perhaps indicative of having done something wrong – it might even reach the level of certainty, with any given individual – but it can’t reliably tell us how grave an act is, or whether it should be illegal.

Debunking the Debunker – 4

More from Seth Millstein:

Common Argument #6: When abortion is legal, women just use it as a form of birth control.

Your Response: Do you have evidence of this? Considering that contraceptives are cheaper, easier, less painful, less time-consuming, less emotionally taxing, and more readily available than abortions, it seems odd to suggest that women who’ve already decided to use birth control would select abortion as their preferred method. It’s more likely the opposite: Historical and contemporary data suggests that women will seek abortions regardless of whether or not they’re legal, but that when birth control and contraceptives are more widely accessible, abortion rates go down.


Common Argument #7: Abortions are dangerous.

Your Response: When performed by trained professionals, abortions are one of the safest procedures in medicine, with a death rate of less than .01 percent. The risk of dying while giving birth is roughly 13 times higher. Abortions performed by people without the requisite skills and training, however, are extremely unsafe. An estimated 68,000 women die every year from back alley abortions, which are generally most common when abortion is illegal and/or inaccessible.

If you’d like to examine the health impact of banning abortion, consider Romania, which banned abortions in 1966. That policy remained in place for just under fifteen years, during which time over 9,000 women died from unsafe abortions, and countless others were permanently injured. That’s around two women dying every day. When the policy was reversed, maternal mortality rate plummeted to one-eighth of what it was at its peak under the no-abortion policy.

The negative health effects of prohibiting abortion don’t end with the mothers. Romania’s abortion ban sparked a nationwide orphan crisis, as roughly 150,000 unwanted newborns were placed in nightmarish state-run orphanages. Many of those orphans now suffer from sever mental and physical health problems, including autism, reduced brain size, schizoaffective disorder, and sociopathy.

When abortion is illegal, it becomes exponentially more unsafe for both women and their children. You may not like the fact that women will seek abortions even when they’re illegal, but it is undeniably a fact nonetheless.


Let’s do something unusual, and grant him everything he’s said here.  What of it?

Abortion is still wrong, because it is the taking of innocent life.

In a link Millstein provided, there is heavy emphasis on “unintended” pregnancies.  Again, this is merely a confession of foolishness:  Pregnancy is always possible when sex occurs.  Whether intended or not, one should understand the possibility of pregnancy.  (Millstein and others speak as though people might die if they don’t have sex.  Obviously, it’s quite the opposite).

Now, we can distill these two sets of objections – which are both off-point, but we will take them anyway – to the notion that, given pregnancy, a significant percentage of women will seek abortion, regardless of laws.  And when abortion is illegal, those who nevertheless procure abortions are at greater risk of death.

In the first case, it seems to me that this will always be the case, to the extent that there will always be a non-zero murder rate in the world.  We don’t have to like it, but there appears to be nothing we can do about it.

Now, if the fetus is a human life, I still see no reason to legalize taking that life.  Just because it is bound to happen anyway, does not mean we should just let it happen.  No more than we would just let another person be mugged.

Take the mugging example further, as pro-choicers are wont to do:  Imagine the mugger has a family to feed, and they are starving.  Not only is he out to take some wallets, but he will even do so recklessly.  He just will; there is no preventing him.

Do we then grant him the legal right to mug innocent people, simply because, otherwise, it might be dangerous for him?

(And if you are a Liberal, you might be saying that this is a good case for government assistance.  This is where I say, “Is that so?”  Reflect and grieve – you should be pro-life.  Liberals should own this cause, the cause of the unborn, but you’ve let your hearts be hardened).

No, neither of these arguments has the least effect against the cause of the unborn, because they completely lose sight of the point.  And even if we agree to squint along with him, Millstein’s arguments aren’t consistent with other universally accepted ethical principles.

Debunking the Debunker – 3

Next couple of arguments…

Common Argument #3: But I’m okay with abortions in cases of rape.

Your Response: Why only in those cases? Are the lives of children who were conceived by rape worth less than the lives of children who were willfully conceived? If preserving the life of the child takes primacy over the desires of the mother — which is what you’re saying if you if you oppose any legal abortions — then it shouldn’t matter how that life was conceived.

In all possible seriousness and sincerity, I thank the author for this bit of cogency.  He’s exactly right.  If you’re ok with abortion in the case of rape, you’re simply walking an incoherent middle ground.  You’re on the fence, and the discomfort follows accordingly.


Common Argument #4: If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Your Response: Go home, Todd Akin, you’re drunk.

This is a distraction, but I understand why it was included.


Fisking the response:

Common Argument #5: Adoption is a viable alternative to abortion.

Your Response: This implies that the only reason a woman would want to get an abortion is to avoid raising a child, and that isn’t the case.

Our friend relies a lot on implication, and not enough on the actual words used in his own presentation of the argument.  It’s like a rainbow strawman – if you’ll just look way over there, and perhaps squint, you’ll see this argument is just fraught with implications.

Whether or not a pro-life person felt this way, whatever follows is already off the rails:  Adoption is a viable alternative to abortion.  As anyone who was given up for adoption, instead of being aborted.

Depending on the circumstances, the mere act of having a child in a hospital can cost between $3,000 and $37,000 in the United States.

A fair point, but if we’re on the subject of adoption, the adoptive parents will often help with or cover these costs.

Giving birth is dangerous, too: In the United States, pregnancy complications are the sixth most common cause of death for women between the ages of 20 and 34.

It is true, and the risk cannot be waved off.

Let the honest mind consider:  Many things a young woman may be doing – in addition to risking pregnancy – are associated with risks.

In fact, the greatest danger to women in this age bracket is death by unintentional injuries – in the younger subset, this risk is greater by a factor of 14; for the older subset, the greater risk approaches a factor of 10.

Now, if Millstein is out there, un-unintending lots of consequences for the sake of women’s health, then we might work our way down past suicide, cancer, heart disease, and homicide before we get to complications in pregnancy.  (But this is rhetorical reasoning, fitting for a Progressive, but not for us).

My question is first:  What level of risk would be acceptable?  And isn’t that always an arbitrary number?

Would we say that, once the risk is 5%, then the mother has a greater right-to-life than the child in her womb? 10%?  51%?

My question is second:  Isn’t this beside the point?  We have already seen how pregnancy is not an arbitrary consequence of sex, but a well-established and perfectly natural one.  Even when pains are taken to prevent it.

And so, if a woman wants to avoid the sixth leading cause of death in her age group, she might do well to avoid sex.  Once all of that is said and done, the crux of the argument rests with the fetus’ right to life.

Even before birth, there are costs to pregnancy. In addition to the whole “carrying another human being around in your stomach for nine months” thing, many women, particularly teens, are shunned and shamed for their pregnancies — not only by friends, families, employers, and classmates, but also by advertisements in the subway. There’s also the risk of violent retribution from abusive partners and parents.

While I have heard testimony that conditions are much better than they used to be, and in fact, teenage pregnancy is on the decline, this is an honest and deserved concern.

We should work on this.  I don’t know how, or exactly what the answer is.  I just know the kinds of things I would do in a given situation (or I like to think so).

Cutting to the chase, however – how much shame justifies the killing of innocent life?  Is there an objective measure for this, or should we accept the subjective sense that the shame is “too much” and approve the taking of an innocent life?

As for violence, whether one is pregnant or not, there are measures that can be taken; in the context of an argument, this is a red herring at best.  At worst, it is the same problem a non-pregnant woman faces in an abusive relationship, and one imagines the answer, if there is one, is the same in both cases.

It is awful beyond words, I grant you.  But so is abortion.  Let’s find a way to save both lives.
In short, there are a lot of reasons a woman might seek an abortion. Adoption doesn’t address all of them.

I am tempted to parse this for Millstein, because I am kind*.  One imagines it made sense to him.  But it’s late, and we must leave Millstein some margin to come side with the angels.

*Keep your humor – I’m being facetious.