The Culture of Life

Neal Kramer is currently a professor in the English Department at BYU, and has worked in various capacities with that institution. He has written extensively on topics concerning Mormon Literature and Mormon Studies, and has worked with and published with such organizations and publications as the Association for Mormon Letters, Dialogue, and many others. We’re honored to have him as our guest.

This week’s visit of the Pope to the United States has reminded us again of the powerful concept that enlivens much earnest and probably correct thinking about the greatest issues of our time. This concept, advanced almost exclusively by Roman Catholic theologians and sometimes adopted by Pres. Bush, is, of course, the concept of a culture of life.

Its antithesis, a culture of death, has also found some traction in recent thinking about profound post-war issues in the West, such as civilian casualties in war, genocide, the use of nuclear weapons, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, eugenics, poverty, the death penalty, health care, and so forth.

The core idea advanced by these theologians, including the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardine from Chicago and the late Pope John Paul II, is respect for human life in all its forms. It derives from the belief that humans are God’s creations/children and therefore have inherent dignity. This belief is unwavering in its commitment to the ethical, spiritual, and moral imperative to respect the dignity of all humanity and of each individual person. This lies behind the Pope’s call this past week for worldwide respect for human rights as the foundation for peace in the world.

A culture of life is a complex web or seamless fabric of teachings, all of which are interconnected. Interestingly enough, the teachings about a culture of life do not translate into a particular political ideology. No current nation-state takes the culture of life as the foundation of its way of life. This means that there laws, practices, and ideas about justice in every society that conflict with the culture of life. For example, U.S. laws about abortion and capital punishment are both in conflict with the teachings about human dignity in the idea of a culture of life. The strength of the concept, from my perspective, is its consistency as well as its capacity to transcend local culture or government.

Do Latter-day Saints have a fundamental teaching or teachings as consistent and rational as this concept? Ought we to have it? Can it be consistent with the concept of ongoing revelation?

Comments

  1. I don’t think there is even any religion that fully practices the tenets of a “culture of life” as you describe it, let alone political ideologies. If it isn’t one issue, it is another. Christianity easily justifies the killings of people who they feel threatened by (whether actually justified or not).

    I don’t think as a religion, or adherents to our LDS faith, that we should adhere to the “culture of life” until we are willing to stop being violent with the peoples of the world (regardless of how violent others wish to be towards us—God has sworn to protect us, it is high time we rely on Him, instead of the arms of flesh, for protection).

    I do believe our Gospel doctrines adhere to the culture of life, to the respect for all persons. If fully practiced, we will walk two miles for someone else, give of our coat even when not asked for, and show charity and love for the greatest of our enemies. We are not doing this right now. No Christian sect or denomination is.

  2. Thanks for joining us Neal. I have tremendous admiration for the Catholic ideas on the “culture of life” as you state it. In many ways, however, the litany of life, as presented in your post is Utopian. Now as Mormons, we have our own Utopian heritage, but the inevitable implementation of Utopian ideals are inherently political and so far have failed miserably.

    Still, to answer your question, I do think that Mormonism resonates deeply with a fundamental primacy of human rights. The question just becomes what are those rights and how are they to be enforced.

  3. The Catholic Church recently “updated” the seven deadly sins to include:
    1. “Bioethical” violations such as birth control
    2. “Morally dubious” experiments such as stem cell research
    3. Drug abuse
    4. Polluting the environment
    5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
    6. Excessive wealth
    7. Creating poverty
    Much of the reasoning behind the move was the emphasize the communal nature of sin. We you commit a personal sin you are, in this age of globalization, that sin has the social consequences of that sin and its ramifications are felt throughout the global community. Excessive wealth, creating poverty, and polluting the environment are just as much part of the “culture of life” as abortion, stem cell research, and the death penalty. I don’t agree with the Catholic position on birth control or stem cell research, but it seems to me that this is issue communal sins is something that could be articulated by Mormons. I believe that Mormons have a strong ethical stance on many issues, but we seem to fall short on any discussions about the environment or poverty. To me these issues are more about the “culture of life” than are issues about abortion or stem cell research. I believe those traditional “culture of life” issues need to be debated but when poverty is the number one contributor to death and ill health across the world it seems like that is a far more pressing issue. I do believe that Mormonism has a consistent conceptual framework that allows for these issues to be addressed, I just believe that is just a matter of will on the part of the general membership of the church, not just the Church leaders.

  4. C. Biden says:

    The answer to your question, is no: LDS have no fundamental teaching or teachings as consistent and rational as this concept. This is primarily because there is no such thing as a consistent fundamental teaching in LDS theology, including the nature of God. The old “nailing Jello to the wall” is the consistent description of Mormon doctrine. Mormons believe what they were last told. In LDS thought it’s called continuing revelation, in the rest of the world it’s called “oops.”

  5. C. Biden,

    That’s not fair.

    Other religions change their beliefs all the time, too. Protestants aren’t anti-Semitic anymore, like Luther was, and they have quit using the Bible to justify slavery, just for starters.

  6. Some members seem to believe that the church has a consistent coherent doctrine on many (most?) topics. Such members generally tend to view every scriptural passage or general authority statement as “true,” and assume that the passage or statement fits somehow with everything else that has been said on the topic.

    Others (like myself) tend to see some amount of conflict and contradiction among the words of past and present authorities, or even among various contemporary authorities. For example, it seems to me that the Nephites had a different understanding of the Godhead than we teach in the church today. It seems that Brigham Young understood Adam differently than Orson Pratt did. Etc, etc.

    Nonetheless, perhaps we do have a few “consistent, rational” doctrines that underlie our latter-day teachings. For example, what about the idea that we are on this earth to learn good from evil, gain experience, and learn to be like God. The details of this idea are not clearly articulated in one place, but the general concept seems to consistently underly many of our teachings.

  7. C. Biden,
    Also, if you believe that Mormons believe what they’re told (unless you’re Mormon and someone told you to believe that), you clearly haven’t been speaking with many, or, for that matter, reading the Bloggernacle.

    Yes, our doctrine is hard to nail down. It has its benefits and its detriments.

  8. As a side note, I am acquainted with a man whose wife left the church a few years ago because its abortion policy was to lenient. She joined the Catholic church. That was the first time I had considered how the “culture of life” that Neal writes about is not fully part of contemporary church teaching. The church’s website states that the church has no institutional position on stem cell research or capital punishment, and that abortion is a possible option in certain limited cases. The church is formally opposed to euthanasia, but makes it clear that families may choose to terminate artificial life support.

  9. This gives me one additional thought: The church’s abortion policy reflects a very consistent latter-day teaching: agency and accountability for one’s actions. Notice that the church allows for possible abortions only in cases where circumstances of the pregnancy were not directly caused by the woman’s choices. Premarital sex = no abortion. But rape/incest/health risk = maybe.

  10. Agellius says:

    Jordan:

    Abortion kills far more people yearly than poverty. Over a million a year in this country alone.

  11. My spin: I see “culture of life’ being about the here and now, speaks about all of humanity, and is a reward in itself.
    Mormonism is future oriented, speaks of itself or group, and it’s actions lead to future rewards.

  12. Agellius says:

    CE:

    You write, “The church’s abortion policy reflects a very consistent latter-day teaching: agency and accountability for one’s actions. Notice that the church allows for possible abortions only in cases where circumstances of the pregnancy were not directly caused by the woman’s choices. Premarital sex = no abortion. But rape/incest/health risk = maybe.”

    My problem with that, logically, is that while it takes into account the woman’s agency, it doesn’t take into account the baby’s right to live. Whether its mother got pregnant on purpose or not, objectively has nothing to do with whether or not it’s right to kill the child.

    By the way, I’m Catholic.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    Agellius, I think we’re picking up on the Catholicism! You should keep in mind that the LDS abortion policy does permit abortions under certain limited circumstances, and that debating the merits of this policy is not what this post (or site) is really about…

  14. Agellius says:

    It looked to me like the post was about whether the LDS church should adopt the philosophy of the Culture of Life. I think whether the current LDS policy is logically coherent, is relevant to that question. If it’s not logical, and if the Culture of Life is, that would militate towards adopting the latter.

  15. I appreciate your argument, but you need to understand that for purposes of this discussion it’s a given that the LDS abortion policy is not going to change. The thread will be less confrontational, I would think, if you can appreciate the limits of discussing the applicability of the Culture of Life in LDS context, as opposed to stressing how LDS abortion policies ought to be altered to become Catholic abortion policies.

    More importantly, this post is about far, far more than abortion. Or is that all the Culture of Life is really getting at? If that’s true it’s immensely disappointing.

  16. Then again, I may be wrong. Carry on.

  17. Eric Russell says:

    Agellius, I generally take it as a given that Steve is wrong, so I’ll carry on.

    You’ve used the word logically in both you comments, but I fail to see what’s logically inconsistent about the LDS position on abortion. If you’re saying it’s inconsistent with the position of an absolute “culture of life” you’re right, but the church doesn’t necessarily lay claim to such a culture per se, nor does it affirm the unconditional right to life of a fetus, and thus there is no logical inconsistencies in the church’s position.

  18. Eric Russell says:

    “Do Latter-day Saints have a fundamental teaching or teachings as consistent and rational as this concept?”

    Great question, Bro. Kramer. I think we do. 2 Ne. 2:7.

    The concept of broken heart and contrite spirit as our part in the relationship with Christ that is extended to us by way of the atonement is as fundamental, consistent and rational a concept as any. I believe it ultimately underpins every doctrine in our gospel and that it does so to an even more extensive degree than the culture of life does for Catholic thought.

  19. I’ll grant that the “culture of life” concept leads to consistency, but I don’t think it is that impressively rational. It seems like there are all kinds of really (genuinely) tough ethical questions which the “culture of life” approach answers consistently and in one way, which can only be correct if those questions are not actually such tough questions after all. Since I personally believe they are tough questions, I find the culture of life to be too simplistic an ethical framework.

  20. I think part of our “culture of life” is our recognition of the premortal, mortal, and postmortal stages. In other words, maybe we don’t obsess over certain decisions made here quite as much because we know that other opportunities will arise. The trump card is, of course, continuing personal revelation which should guide us towards the respect and empathy Heavenly Father wishes us, as individuals, to develop. I know this answer doesn’t get into some of the subtleties, but I believe it answers that we do have an abundantly affirmative “culture of life”–eternal life.

  21. If Catholic culture is expressed as “respect for human life in all its forms” then LDS culture might be expressed as respect for eternal life in all its forms–premortal, mortal, and post mortal. Which actually encompasses all the Catholic’s have and more.

    LDS in this day have a “temple culture”.

  22. For example, U.S. laws about abortion and capital punishment are both in conflict with the teachings about human dignity in the idea of a culture of life.

    There is a vast difference between the destruction of innocent life for selfish means, and the taking of a guilty life as a means of punishment.

    That is where the “culture of life” theology falls apart for me: It oversimplifies to the point of not making meaningful distinctions.

    According to the “culture of life”, do I have the right to use deadly force to protect my family in the event a criminal enters my home?

  23. I recommend reading Albert Schweitzer on this.

  24. I think it could be argued that one reason why the LDS church has no absolute prohibition is that (a) either the aborted embryo/fetus is saved in the Celestial Kingdom or (b) will get another opportunity to come to Earth. Our view of the eternities does not mean that an aborted fetus is eternally damned.

  25. Agellius–

    To clarify my point in comment #9:
    When I say the church abortion policy reflects the principal of agency, I mean that the church wants people to deal with the consequences of their actions (i.e., if you get pregnant, keep the child). I certainly did not mean to imply that the church deems an abortion as an exercise of God-given agency! Based on my reading of church teachings,

  26. What you do is more important than what you say you believe.

  27. #25 was in answer to the question, “Do Latter-day Saints have a fundamental teaching or teachings as consistent and rational as this concept?”

  28. Steve Evans says:

    bye, bye, Biden.

  29. Most Mormons support the death penalty and oppose abortion.

    Most Mormons oppose embryonic stem cell research, yet support in vitro fertilization (a process that creates many embryos that are put on the deep freeze or destroyed, never to be used).

    From a bioethical perspective, Mormons are horribly inconsistent on these issues, and most Mormons can’t see or admit their own inconsistency.

    I admire the Catholic Church for being consistent, even if I don’t accept their particular culture of life.

    I like the fact that the LDS Church remains neutral on many of these issues, allowing its members to make their own decisions. But I also think it’s unfortunate that most Mormons can’t seem to formulate a consistent personal view on life and death issues. For example, a common Mormon view on life issues might be: support death penalty for the criminal, don’t abort the fetus, waste embryos to get a baby by in vitro fertilization…but whatever you do, don’t destroy unused embryos to do ES cell research that could someday allow us to save lives.

  30. sister blah 2 says:

    Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

  31. sister blah 2 says:

    PS: I’m not trying to be anti-Catholic. Just seemed like a relevant quote for this discussion.

  32. Peter LLC says:

    “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

    What does that make a wise consistency? The purview of the exalted?

    Just seemed like a relevant quote for this discussion.

    Would you care to expand?

  33. Yes MudPhud, It is completely inconsistent to believe that innocent babies deserve to live and rapists and murderers deserve to die.

    I see a complete consistency between the two.
    Get a clue, MudPhud.

  34. NoS:

    Would Christ support the death penalty? It’s an interesting question. I don’t claim to have an answer, but I think he would lean toward mercy.

    Has an innocent person ever been executed in America? Most definitely.

    Would Christ support a war built on lies that has directly or indirectly caused the deaths more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians and thousands of US troops? Most Mormons support or supported it.

    Like I said, I admire the Catholic Church’s devotion to life, even if I don’t agree with all their positions.

  35. I think it could be argued that one reason why the LDS church has no absolute prohibition is that (a) either the aborted embryo/fetus is saved in the Celestial Kingdom or (b) will get another opportunity to come to Earth. Our view of the eternities does not mean that an aborted fetus is eternally damned.

    Because the LDS position isn’t exclusively a culture of life, it includes a culture of choices and what those choices make of the chooser.

    I am not nearly as concerned for the eternal salvation of the unborn baby as I am the eternal salvation of one who chooses to abortion in the absence of a few select mitigating circumstances.

  36. Theology is humans trying to decipher divine principles. Mormons believe in revelation instead of theology. Note that BYU does not have Theology Dept.

    The Culture of Life is Theology. And I admire Catholics who are consistent with it. But I do not see the support for it as a revealed divine principle. The closest I can come up with is the commandment for us to love others as God loved us. I don’t think it leads to all the same conclusions, however. Of course, that is my Theology.

    Christianity teaches that we must forgive what is done to us, and repent of the evil we do. We make restitution when possible, but ultimately we will be forgiven. The ability to make resititution is not factored in to whether we will be forgiven, only the sincerity of our repentence.

    To some degree, and perhaps more so in Mormon thought, this dismisses the consquences of evil inflicted on us. Life is full of unfortunate events, but ultimately our eternal life is what really matters.

  37. It seems to me that the purpose of this post and the questions Neal is asking is not to debate the finer points of LDS policy/doctrine regarding specific “culture of life” issues, but to explore whether or not there is some kind of underlying ethical imperative or governing principle that runs consistently through Mormon cosmology. If not the Kantian imperative (treat no human life as a means but as an end in itself), then what? Some possible answers:

    The imperative to save/exalt a maximum number of God’s children.

    The goodness of God and His intervention in human history to effect the exaltation of a maximum number of His children.

    The centrality of agency exercised by self-conscious, intelligent beings to the creation and sustenance of an order of existence capable of reversing the effects of entropy (life eternal).

    The continuity and indivisibility of individual identity from pre-mortal to mortal to post-mortal existence.

  38. Agellius, I appreciate your comment but I’m sorry you are wrong. Abortions don’t kill over a million people in the united states alone. You are quoting the often manipulated numbers of pro-life groups. The official 2001 census (see number 112) shows that 59,606 abortions were performed in the united states in 1996. That number has increased from 47,606 in 1975. I doubt that in the last 12 years that nearly 60,000 has increased to over a million. It is true that there are very high rates of abortion in other countries, like Japan, India, and China, but look at the devastation that is caused around the world from poverty and see what has a more direct impact on over a billion people. UNICEF figures that that over 26,500 children die from poverty, hunger, and treatable diseases everyday. It only takes 2.5 days for that number to more than equal that of all the abortions that are performed in the United States. There is also clear evidence that the regions with the highest rates of abortion are also the least developed, and that restrictive laws against abortion do nothing to curb its incidence. So the question still stands, if you want to address abortion as an essential moral problem in the “culture of life” then shouldn’t we attack its direct roots, poverty and the treatment of women in developing countries?

  39. sister blah 2 says:

    Peter, no I don’t really care to expand. I was just throwing it out there to appear intelligent/educated, while not really contributing anything anything to the discussion. Then you had to call me out on it. Phooey.

    I don’t really share the OP’s fascination with “Culture of Life” as a theme. I’m not going to rail against Life, but I dunno, as a unifying theory it just doesn’t do it for me. I’d rather comment on things I feel strongly about, than just pop in a thread and say, “Eh…meh.” But now you dragged me in, so here ya go:

    This is coming from a position of privilege, ie I wasn’t aborted, nobody’s ever shot at me and I’ve got food on the table. But physical Life just isn’t nearly as sweep-me-off-my-feet inspiring to me as the kind of Enlightenment ideals of an indominable human Spirit or Will, expansion of the mind, learning, progress and heroic conquest over one’s own failings. So, Culture of Life = Clinton (solid, good concrete policy proposals) and Enlightenment = Obama/Ronan. heh.

  40. Agellius says:

    Steve:

    I see other comments that are no more relevant to the original post than mine. I suspect you just have a particular sensitivity to having LDS doctrine criticized. But if that’s the philosophy of this blog, far be it from me to impose myself.

    By the way, I was referred here by a Mormon who thought my perspective might make a worthy contribution to this thread. You know, the Catholic perspective.

  41. Agellius says:

    Eric:

    You write, “You’ve used the word logically in both you comments, but I fail to see what’s logically inconsistent about the LDS position on abortion.”

    Point well taken. “Logically” may not have been the right word.

    CE made the point that the doctrine of human agency dictates when abortions are allowed: When someone gets pregnant by her own choice, then she should not have one, but if it’s not by her choice, then one might be allowable.

    What I meant was that it seems to disregard what should be the main criteria. When deciding whether or not to kill an unborn child, or anything else for that matter, the first question should be, what is the nature of the thing that is to be killed? Is it a human being? If it is, then it has the right to live, regardless of the circumstances of its conception.

  42. Agellius says:

    Jordan:

    You misread table 112, cited by you in the link you provided (http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/statab/sec02.pdf).

    What it says is that in 1996, there were 59,606,000 women between the ages of 15-44 years old (the column heading indicates that the numbers are to be multiplied by 1,000). The number of abortions performed on those women was 1,366,000.

    (This results in a ratio of 22.9 abortions per 1,000 women, and 351 abortions per 1,000 live births — which means more than one quarter of all babies conceived were killed before birth.)

  43. Steve Evans says:

    Agellius, again I wonder if the Catholic perspective on the Culture of Life is really just another way of saying “no abortions.” If so, where’s the novelty of the perspective?

    As for not liking criticism of LDS doctrine on this site — bingo! By analogy, I wouldn’t go to Vox Nova and dismiss the rationality or consistency of the Catholic position. Consider your audience, my friend.

    Finally, you say: “Is it a human being? If it is, then it has the right to live, regardless of the circumstances of its conception.” I don’t know why that if-then statement is universally true, particularly with the regardless proviso.

  44. Agellius says:

    Steve: You would be perfectly welcome to go to catholic.com and criticize Catholic doctrine. Likewise MormonApologetics.org welcomes criticisms of LDS doctrine. I had no idea this site was a criticism-free zone, until you told me.

    You write, “I wonder if the Catholic perspective on the Culture of Life is really just another way of saying “no abortions.” If so, where’s the novelty of the perspective?”

    The author of the original post is the one who said it was unique to Catholicism, not I.

    You write, “Finally, you say: “Is it a human being? If it is, then it has the right to live, regardless of the circumstances of its conception.” I don’t know why that if-then statement is universally true, particularly with the regardless proviso.

    I just thought it was universally acknowledged that human beings have the right to live. You know, “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” and all that. Are you saying that is not acknowledged by Mormons? I would be surprised if that’s true.

  45. Agellius, let’s leave behind the issue of criticism of LDS doctrine at this site. It is making things unnecessarily combative. Brad, above, I think has the right view of what this post is really trying to get at.

    But you really do seem fixated on abortion — my question is whether or not Catholics believe in a culture of life that means more than just an anti-abortion platform guised in a New Agey way. What about war, death penalties, euthanasia, or the host of other circumstances in which a culture of life may have play? Abortion is just a bit overdiscussed, that’s all.

    There are many problems with the issue of the right to life. Among these is the definition of what constitutes a human being (the “if” part of your statement). There’s not a consensus amongst LDS on this ‘if,’ certainly not in terms of when a fetus becomes a human life. I would agree with the general proposition that a human being has the inalienable right to life — I didn’t mean, by my question, to suggest otherwise! Good heavens.

    As a secondary problem, Mormons do believe that sometimes the circumstances of conception can give rise to a moral right for a woman to choose an abortion. Incest and rape are oft-cited, although I would probably note that LDS abortions in these situations are still rare. I am not sure how to reconcile this with the concept of the inalienable right to life, except to suggest that fetuses are not, in Mormonism, considered fully developed human lives with the absolute right to life. That’s probably not acceptable from a Catholic view, but there it is.

  46. sometimes I wish for the consistency in the culture of life which at first glance seems lacking in Mormon doctrine. There is a sense of comfort to think that there is one standard (protection of human life) by which you can judge right from wrong. That being said, I theologically disagree with a lot of the policy implications of such a culture and believe that there are competing interests that must be weighed in most judgment calls, so I don’t know if I were Catholic, where I would fit in.

    There is a possibility that the LDS church has a “culture of continuing revelation” as a guiding principle. We generally defer to revelation as the reason behind our beliefs and that is also what allows them to evolve. We are constantly admonishing people to find out for themselves whether our beliefs are true. And we find SS teachers playing the “if the prophet told you ____(fill in the blank with something completely ridiculously absurd) would you do it?” game as the ultimate test of your faith.

    This culture of revelation allows God into the nuance behind why some things seem inconsistent and acknowledges the shades of gray in the battle of right v wrong. While the gray brings discomfort, it also allows me to be part of something where I don’t necessarily agree with all of the policy, but still find a great deal of truth.

    I say this is only a possible guiding principle, though, because there are times when, rather than embracing revelation as a core value, a wave of “you can have personal revelation as long as you get the same answer we did” comes from the powers that be. But it’s still a work in progress.

  47. I am writing, highly aware that I may be way out of my league, but in reading this article and the responses, I have several of my own reactions, relevant or not.
    1. There is very clearly a huge division among those who support and those who abhor a woman’s right to an abortion. For me, part of my opinions on the matter (I support a woman’s right to choose, especially in cases of violence) come from my notion of when life begins. In Genesis we learn that man did not become a living soul until the “breath of life” was given to him. If that is true, and we accept a literal interpretation of the text, then infants are not living souls either until they come out of the womb and into a breathing world. (I am not saying life begins at birth, I just don’t believe it begins at conception.) And if the termination of all fetuses is murder, what of all the couples who become parents because of fertility clinics that fertilize millions of eggs, implant a few, flush the rest. Let’s add those numbers to our abortion statistics and we have a real problem. The same Mormons who deplore abortion because all fetuses are humans, use invitro and other methods to have their own families while ignoring their own hypocrisy. We use death to create life. What a paradox.
    2. As for a culture of life, I believe it exists and it doesn’t. Opposition in all things, remember. We all want to live, we believe it is necessary in our eternal progression. However, the duration of our living is of little consequence. We can be saved if we live a long, good life, and we can be saved if we die in infancy. God believes in the right to live and the right to kill. For example, He saved the Israelites from certain destruction under the egyptian’s arm and He instructed Nephi to kill Laban, in cold blood – against an incapacitated man. He says “thou shalt not kill”, until He says thou shalt.
    3. In #37, the imperative to save and exalt a maximum number of God’s children is proposed. If that is true, and our church is the only way that happens, we have no hope of success. Statistically, the number of humans who have ever lived on earth far exceeds the number we could ever hope to save in our temple work. We have accomplished the task of providing for less than 1% of humankind’s salvation.
    4. That said, and with very little evidence, my hunch is that I think Mormons have a culture of eternal life. Mortal death is just a portal we all pass through. But eternal life is the ultimate goal, that is our work. It is a naive response, I know.

  48. Agellius says:

    Steve: Personally I am feeling much less combative over the criticism issue than over the baby-killing issue. It always shocks me to a greater or lesser degree when I encounter indifference to it, because it is so obvious to me.

    If I seem fixated on abortion, maybe it’s because 46 million human beings have been sliced, diced or fried alive in a chemical soup since 1973. I will not consider it overdiscussed until the majority of people realize the extent of the horror.

    I find no difficulty whatsoever in defining a human being. It’s the product of the meeting of a sperm and an egg, resulting in conception and eventually, if not killed by malice, disease or accident, developing into an adult human being. The term “seamless garment” refers to the fact that once a human being is conceived, there is no line you can draw before which it is not a human being, and after which it becomes one. It’s one from the start and remains one until it dies.

    There is simply no good scientific or logical reason to believe otherwise.

    It’s so clear and obvious that I believe no one can fail to see it unless he has some ulterior reason not to. I’m sorry if that sounds overly blunt or judgmental, but when I try to pin people down on specifics, they never have answers. Therefore I must conclude that they simply choose not to see it.

    You write, “As a secondary problem, Mormons do believe that sometimes the circumstances of conception can give rise to a moral right for a woman to choose an abortion. Incest and rape are oft-cited, although I would probably note that LDS abortions in these situations are still rare. I am not sure how to reconcile this with the concept of the inalienable right to life, except to suggest that fetuses are not, in Mormonism, considered fully developed human lives with the absolute right to life. That’s probably not acceptable from a Catholic view, but there it is.”

    It’s not acceptable from a Catholic point of view because it’s not acceptable from a logical point of view. Of course it’s true that an unborn child is not fully developed. But it’s also true that a newborn baby is not fully developed, nor a 2-year-old, nor a 10-year-old, nor a 15-year-old. These are different stages of life, not different species.

  49. Steve Evans says:

    okey-doke. Thanks, Agellius. You’ve answered my questions.

  50. Agellius, it is one thing to provide an alternate perspective. It is quite another to scream that others are wrong and stupid and unable to understand basic, simple things. Your last comment did just that.

    Let me ask this in a different way. Is the Catholic Church opposed to all war? If so, since when?

    If a mother faces a life-or-life decision, how can she choose life and not death simultaneously?

    Who is responsible for violating life in the case of a miscarriage?

    If Mormons believe in the insertion of a pre-existent spirit into an embryo that turns that embryo into a “Child of God soul”, that means they do not equate PHYSICAL conception with the complete creation of a “living soul”. You might not agree with that theology, but to dismiss it out of hand by saying “there is simply no good scientific or logical reason to believe otherwise” belies your lack of understanding of Mormon doctrine.

  51. and, I should add, it is this Mormon definition of a “living soul” that allows miscarriages to not violate the sanctity of life. The “life begins at conception” argument allows for God to condone the killing of billions upon billions of embryos after conception and before baptism, thus, if applied totally consistently to the culture of life, condemning those “humans” to Hell. How is that logical, other than positing an extreme Calvinistic predestination that is not accepted in Catholicism?

  52. Steve Evans says:

    Ray, let it go. Agellius is very concerned about abortion, as is his right. I don’t find it personally fruitful to engage with him, as he is here only to talk abortion (and not the larger, potentially more interesting parts of the original post), but so it goes.

    In other words: abortion is BORING. It has been discussed to death in the religious sphere generally and in the Bloggernacle in particular, and it is BORING. I’m begging everyone to move on, not because one of you is wrong or right, but because the topic is DULL and OLD and there are simply more fun and engaging things to talk about.

    …seriously. Why on earth people still bother talking about it in the 2008 Bloggernacle is a mystery to me (but not an interesting enough mystery to discuss on a blog thread!)

  53. Will do, Steve.

  54. Steve Evans says:

    thanks raymundo. It seems to me that those still interested in the topic have a safe haven at T&S.

  55. OK, that’s a spit take.

  56. Eric Russell says:

    For those keeping score at home, Steve has used the word ‘abortion’ in five different comments so far this thread.

  57. Steve Evans says:

    Confound you, Eric!

  58. BAN HIM! (I was going to use a different word, but I thought better of it.)

  59. Agellius,
    I’ll say here what I’ve said elsewhere in connection with hard line, uncompromising abortion ethics. Given the hypothetical choice between saving a freezer with 46 million frozen human embryos in it and saving the life of a single living human child (yes, I am distinguishing between the two), I’d choose the latter without a second’s thought. The no-middle-ground position you’re staking here suggests that you’d respond differently to said hypothetical. Which is fine–but don’t act like it’s a logical necessity that flows self-evidently from the language of the Declaration of Independence. I suspect you could ask 100 Christians of varying persuasions–including Catholics, Evangelicals, and Mormons–the same question and I doubt more than a handful would embrace the strident, absolutist moral logic that would constrain them to let the, uh, child die and save the embryos. Just sayin’…

  60. Ray:

    It’s obvious that you don’t like my opinions. But they are what they are, and I don’t see any reason to fault me for expressing them. For the most part I have either been answering the questions posed in the original post, or responding to comments or questions directed to me by other posters.

    I never used the word stupid. I said that it’s so obvious, once it’s explained, that anyone who can’t see it must have some reason for not seeing it. I did not say nor imply what the reason might be.

    The Catholic Church is not opposed to all war. If you want more specifics, you can search for the word “war” here: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2314.htm.

    A miscarriage is like any other unintentional killing: If someone did something to cause it, it could be manslaughter or it could simply be an accident or the result of disease. You would judge on a case-by-case basis.

    You write, ‘If Mormons believe in the insertion of a pre-existent spirit into an embryo that turns that embryo into a “Child of God soul”, that means they do not equate PHYSICAL conception with the complete creation of a “living soul”. You might not agree with that theology, but to dismiss it out of hand by saying “there is simply no good scientific or logical reason to believe otherwise” belies your lack of understanding of Mormon doctrine.’

    Here’s my difficulty with this — and everyone should bear in mind that I am only responding to a post that was addressed to me: If your position is that an embryo at one point is not a full-fledged human being, and at another point becomes one, that means that at any given moment, the embryo you’re looking at may be a human being, or it may not. Since you don’t know the precise moment when God infuses the soul into the embryo, then at any given moment, you don’t know for sure which it is. Right?

    So the question is, if you’re not sure whether or not it’s a human being at a given moment, do you kill it?

    If you’re out hunting in the woods, and you hear a rustling in the bushes, and you’re not sure whether it’s an animal or another hunter — do you shoot at the bushes? Obviously you don’t. It would be wrong to shoot unless and until you have made sure that you’re not shooting at a human being.

    I submit that if there is any doubt about when an embryo/fetus becomes a human being, then you must not kill it. The burden of proof is on those who wish to take the life of someone or something, and if they lack proof, they are wrong to kill. Just as wrong as a hunter who shoots into the bushes without knowing if his target is animal or human.

  61. Brad:

    You write, “Given the hypothetical choice between saving a freezer with 46 million frozen human embryos in it and saving the life of a single living human child (yes, I am distinguishing between the two), I’d choose the latter without a second’s thought.

    If Catholic morals were followed, the 46 million embryos would not have been frozen in the first place, therefore that dilemma would not arise.

  62. Ray:

    You write, ‘The “life begins at conception” argument allows for God to condone the killing of billions upon billions of embryos after conception and before baptism, thus, if applied totally consistently to the culture of life, condemning those “humans” to Hell. How is that logical, other than positing an extreme Calvinistic predestination that is not accepted in Catholicism?’

    I would like to answer, but I don’t understand: What do you mean when you say that it allows for God to condone the killing of embryos? The whole point is that God does not condone the killing of embryos.

    Secondly, it is not Catholic teaching that all unbaptized babies go to hell.

  63. Agellius, I promised Steve I would let it go. The next time abortion is a topic on Times & Seasons, we can discuss it there.

  64. Agellius,
    Hardly an answer. Or are you really arguing that the fact that “Catholic morals” do not prevail society-wide makes them irrelevant for individual actors? I still want to read your admission that you’d save the embryos over the 2-year-old.

  65. I’ll make it easier with a hypothetical that doesn’t involve abrogating Catholic morals in its constitution:

    You’re in a hospital where brain-dead pregnant women are kept on life support so their unborn babies can come to full term. You are confronted with a choice to save either 5 unborn children–at varying stages of pregnancy–or 1 two-year-old. What do Catholic morals compel you to do here? If the life of an unborn child at any stage (post-conception) is on equal moral footing and equally governed by the absolutist ethical logic of the culture of life, I think the choice makes itself. And I think that choice is the wrong one. If saving the two-year-old means pulling the plugs, I would not so much as hesitate.

    Then again, I am the product of a culture where reverence for life has been dulled by legalized abortion, stem cell research, etc., plus I’m Mormon, so I was raised in a tradition which, as has been made clear on this thread, does not imbibe the rigorous verities of the culture of life–maybe that’s the explanation and I’m just blinded to the ethical indefensibility of my own reaction to the hypothetical. That said, it’s a folly I suspect I share with even a majority of people who consider elective abortion to be morally abominable.

  66. I think Maria hit the nail on the head in #47.

    A person who believes that unborn children will suffer any negative eternal consequences as a result of being aborted surely has no concept the Christ’s atonement and crucifixion. The person who will suffer is the person who decides to have the abortion (this is somewhat excluding the extenuating circumstances under which the church will make exceptions). From the way some people are talking, you’d think we had an “anything goes” policy on abortion, which clearly we do not.

    By the way, it sounds like the Catholic Church ripped off the “culture of life” idea from Adbusters.

  67. Interesting discussion. I find myself completely on the LDS side of this argument (unsurprisingly, since I am LDS), but I’m finding articulating extremely fruitful for myself.

    In the LDS worldview, the fundamental unit is that of choice, responsibility, and consequence, not life. God can create life, take it away, save it — but only we can make choices (unless your a strict Calvinist). The great evil of murder is taking away others choices, not taking away their life. A woman who is raped can consider an abortion because she did not choose to take on the responsibility of sex and bringing a child into the world, and the psychological consequences to her, to the child, and to her family could be great enough to justify this.

    Part of this comes from the fact that this life is only a small portion of our eternal existence. We believe that someone who died at age 4 will have just as much potential in the long run (possibly more) than someone who lived a full life. Our eternal spirits will be given the chances they need. The life of the soul is much more important than the life of the body.

    To take the analogy a bit further that it probably should, our physical bodies are just avatars — we’re all in this big MMORPG together (ever wonder why the laws of physics are so simple? Is it all a simulation?), and our true nature is only at risk from the decisions we make, not the damage that is inflicted on our mortal bodies.

    I’ve rambled a bit, and I don’t think I’ve quite put the nail on the head, but there’s some awfully juicy ideas in here that I’d like to get at a little more. . .

  68. I hate to get the thread back to the original question, but I think the church has a pretty clear overriding ethic of obedience, the First Law of heaven. Revelation is important, but only insofar as it applies to things about which you have received no explicit direction or to support your resolve to obey that which you have been commanded. You can find teachings that obedience to false instructions is even okay–the sin will fall to the head of the leader.

    I have never heard a story about obedience leading to negative consequences from the pulpits of LDSdom. I haven’t heard a GC talk about MMM, but I’ve heard about blessings that come from obedience to the tiniest details, such as earring count.

    I have definitely heard people talk about how revelation can be confusing, or come from the wrong sources. And I would say that we consistently teaching that revelation comes to those who are obedient. So, Nephi’s disobedience to the 10 commandments not withstanding, I would say obedience trumps all else in Mormonism.

    I don’t think this was the case in the early church to the same extent, but it is now.

  69. Assigning everyone human dignity seems like an excellent idea. But, do these thinkers suggest that we have any positive social duties as a result of the principle of dignity? It seems from this post that the idea entails certain actions that we should not engage in. But when I have heard the idea of human dignity floated as a basis for moral imperatives in secular discussions, a number of critics seem to suggest that assigning people dignity can allow for a unjust status quo to be perpetuated, unless dignity entails postive rights.

    But, yes, I would say that our church often does have positive duties/rights attached to the idea of human dignity if you look at principles such as tithing and our urge to redistribute wealth.

    Sometimes, I think we minimize the importance of this almost socialist aspect of our church through our focus on other moral issues. Quite a few times, I have heard people make the comment in church that God doesn’t really mind if you are wealthier than your neighbors so long as you use it well and don’t have pride. But if we look at our actual scriptures, then I think it is pretty clear that God minds quite a bit that we haven’t figured out how to run a more economically just society.

  70. Brad:

    You write, “Hardly an answer. Or are you really arguing that the fact that “Catholic morals” do not prevail society-wide makes them irrelevant for individual actors? I still want to read your admission that you’d save the embryos over the 2-year-old.”

    I just don’t know the answer to that question. My point was that the dilemma itself is created by the failure to respect the sanctity of human life. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that it’s more than likely that the 46 million embryos will die anyway, since it’s extremely unlikely that 46 million women could be found in which to implant them and bring them to birth. Thus those who created them only to freeze them, have condemned the vast majority of them to an early, unnatural death.

    In any case, whatever I would do in that actual situation, is irrelevant to the question of whether it’s right to kill an unborn child in its natural habitat, its mother’s womb.

  71. Agellius,
    Address hypothetical 2 (comment #65) then. It speaks directly to the question of whether an unborn babe in its natural habitat is to be treated as a fully and moral equivalent human life.

  72. Brad:

    You write, “You’re in a hospital where brain-dead pregnant women are kept on life support so their unborn babies can come to full term. You are confronted with a choice to save either 5 unborn children–at varying stages of pregnancy–or 1 two-year-old. What do Catholic morals compel you to do here?”

    Probably the former, but I might need more information before making a decision in real life.

    But you don’t judge the norm by the exceptions. When you make speed limit laws, you don’t base them on how fast a Ferrari can take a corner, you base them on how fast an average car can do it safely. By the same token, the fact that you can dream up scenarios in which a decision might be difficult to make, has little bearing on whether or not an unborn child in its mother’s womb has a right not to be killed.

  73. You are right, Agellius, about judging norms by exceptional scenarios. I’m not arguing, in asserting that moral imperatives require saving the two-year-old, that the unborn deserve no consideration or protection. I am arguing against treating the legal and moral status of the unborn as fully equal with that of the born living. I’m also arguing against the notion that anything less than the kind of rigid, radical pro-life position you are staking here constitutes an irreverence or disregard for human life.

  74. Ray promised Steve he wouldn’t engage Agellius. I didn’t.

    However, I respect Steve’s wish, so I will say one thing only:

    Ray asked a question in #50 that he put in bold letters. Please answer that one.

  75. Brad:

    You write, “I am arguing against treating the legal and moral status of the unborn as fully equal with that of the born living.”

    In that case you should be able to say what the essential difference is, and why one is fully entitled to live and the other is not.

    You write, “I’m also arguing against the notion that anything less than the kind of rigid, radical pro-life position you are staking here constitutes an irreverence or disregard for human life.”

    I consider “rigid, radical pro-life” to be a mere label. Instead, why don’t you tell me specifically where I’m wrong.

  76. Ray’s wife:

    I’m please to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Ray. Boy, this Steve must be someone special to be able to command such obedience. I would have just said, “Butt out, Steve, me and Agellius is talkin’.” ; )

    OK, the question you want me to answer is, “If a mother faces a life-or-life decision, how can she choose life and not death simultaneously?”

    I honestly don’t understand what is being asked. What is a “life-or-life decision”? If you or Mr. Ray want to re-phrase or expound on it, I’ll be happy to give it my best shot.

  77. Brad:

    You write, “You are right, Agellius, about judging norms by exceptional scenarios.”

    I appreciate your fairness.

  78. Ray:

    What’s Times & Seasons?

  79. Steve, may I answer? Please? Please? *grin*

    Times & Seasons is a different LDS-themed blog that discusses abortion on a regular basis, due to the focus of one of the permabloggers there.

    The life-or-life decision is when giving birth will result in the death of the mother. In such a case, someone must make the decision to terminate one life and preserve the other. Which life prevails, if each is equal and neither inviolable? Is it murder to choose to kill one in order to preserve the other?

    PS. It is comments like “command such obedience” that rankle, as they imply (intentionally or not) a mindless herd mentality that is charged often by those who call us a cult. I wasn’t “obeying” Steve; I was honoring his request because he is one of the founders of this blog and has the right to determine the rules of interaction on it. If I didn’t want to honor the request, there are plenty of other places I can choose to blog. That just seems like the Christian thing to do.

  80. I meant neither violable. Changes things more than slightly.

  81. Agellius says:

    Ray:

    You write, ‘It is comments like “command such obedience” that rankle, as they imply (intentionally or not) a mindless herd mentality that is charged often by those who call us a cult. I wasn’t “obeying” Steve; I was honoring his request because he is one of the founders of this blog and has the right to determine the rules of interaction on it. If I didn’t want to honor the request, there are plenty of other places I can choose to blog. That just seems like the Christian thing to do.’

    I’m sure you will understand that I am not so intimate with Mormons that I would necessarily be aware of their sensitivity to a comment like that. I hope you believe me when I say I didn’t mean any offense. I also had no idea that Steve was a co-founder of the blog. Besides I was only kidding. : )

    I will respond to your other question soon, I don’t have quite enough time at the moment.

  82. Agellius says:

    Sorry, that last message was directed to Ray. I forgot to put your his named on it and to put his quote, the first paragraph, in quotation marks.

    Here it is again, corrected:

    Ray:

    You write, “The life-or-life decision is when giving birth will result in the death of the mother. In such a case, someone must make the decision to terminate one life and preserve the other. Which life prevails, if each is equal and neither inviolable? Is it murder to choose to kill one in order to preserve the other?”

    My understanding is, it is always murder to intentionally kill someone (taking for granted such exceptions as war, self-defense and capital punishment). If I had to choose between saving my own life and saving the life of my child, which would most parents choose? Of course I realize it might be a difficult choice, because I would consider how my wife and my other kids might fare without me. Nevertheless I seriously doubt that I could deliberately choose to kill my child in order to save my own life. I’m almost certain that it would be wrong for me to do so. And if it would be wrong for me, then it would be wrong for my wife or any other mother as well.

    How about you? Do you have kids? Would you kill one of them to save your own life?

    Obviously this all hinges on whether you consider an unborn child to be a human being. Since no one has been able to give me a compelling reason to believe it’s not, that’s the position I take.

  83. So, it’s relative and up to us to determine, based on our own circumstances and conscience – and I don’t mean that negatively or sarcastically in any way. I think we’ve found our common ground.

    Thanks, Agellius.

  84. “Rigid, radical pro-life” might be a label, but far from being arbitrary, it is a descriptive and an accurate one.

    In that case you should be able to say what the essential difference is, and why one is fully entitled to live and the other is not.

    The essential ethical difference is that I would save the two-year-old, even if it meant unplugging 5 or 50 fetuses. If you want something more principled or a more objective standard, I suppose appeal could be made to the dependent relationship between the fetus and the mother for sustaining the biological life of the former. The distinction drawn by Roe (for elective abortions) is that of viability–if the fetus is biologically capable of surviving independently of the mother than abortion cannot be used as retroactive birth control (at least in theory). It’s an ethically problematic distinction to make, but ethical dilemmas are never clean cut. And when we try to treat them as clean cut, we end up having to argue, among other things, that saving a freezer full of embryos supersedes saving a single living child.

    I thought my comments were pretty specific in terms of where I thought you were wrong: you are wrong in arguing that the life of a zygote is morally and legally equivalent to the life of a living person. The proof for me that you are wrong is demonstrated by the way your position constrains your possible reactions to the dilemmas posed.

    It’s the argument for saving the unborn babies with mothers on life support instead of a two-year-old child that needs serious defending.

  85. Do you have kids? Would you kill one of them to save your own life?

    No. But I would abort a baby to save the life of my wife without batting an eye.

  86. Agellius says:

    Ray:

    You write, “So, it’s relative and up to us to determine, based on our own circumstances and conscience – and I don’t mean that negatively or sarcastically in any way. I think we’ve found our common ground.”

    You’re kidding, right? I don’t consider it the least bit relative. Since no one can give me any valid reason to believe unborn children are not human beings, I believe they are, and therefore that it’s objectively immoral to kill them.

    Of course each person has to decide for himself whether he believes the truth. That doesn’t make the truth relative.

  87. Agellius says:

    Brad:

    You write, ‘[quoting me] “In that case you should be able to say what the essential difference is, and why one is fully entitled to live and the other is not.”

    ‘[you] The essential ethical difference is that I would save the two-year-old, even if it meant unplugging 5 or 50 fetuses.’

    You miss my point. What I said you need to be able to show, is what the essential difference is between a human being post-birth, and a human being pre-birth, which makes one a human being and the other not; and which therefore gives one the right to live while the other lacks that right.

    You write, ‘”Rigid, radical pro-life” might be a label, but far from being arbitrary, it is a descriptive and an accurate one.’

    Telling me that your label is descriptive and accurate doesn’t make it so. I have no idea what you mean by “rigid” in this context, nor “radical”. “Pro-life”, obviously, is clear.

    You write, “I thought my comments were pretty specific in terms of where I thought you were wrong: you are wrong in arguing that the life of a zygote is morally and legally equivalent to the life of a living person. The proof for me that you are wrong is demonstrated by the way your position constrains your possible reactions to the dilemmas posed.”

    Previously you acknowledged that it’s a mistake to draw moral conclusions based on exceptional situations. Now you seem to be arguing the opposite.

    I said before that what I would do in either of your hypothetical scenarios was irrelevant to the question of whether a baby in its mother’s womb is a human being with the right to live. I still say so.

    I suggest e-mailing me if you want to continue this discussion: agellius1@gmail.com. It’s rather cumbersome in this format.

  88. we’re clearly talking past each other at this point…

  89. Brad:

    You write, “we’re clearly talking past each other at this point…”

    We’re certainly not addressing the same issues head-on. I wonder why that is.

  90. Brad:

    I wrote, “Do you have kids? Would you kill one of them to save your own life?”

    You write, “No. But I would abort a baby to save the life of my wife without batting an eye.”

    Interesting how changing the wording makes it sound better.

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