Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain


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Put that Gavel Down!

Judge-Gavel

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” 1Corinthians 5:9-13

Dear Christians:

I’m not sure if you even read here but just in case you do there are a few things I’d like to say about judging others. First, you are well within your rights to judge each other. Have at it. Paul even tells you to engage in it; not only to judge but to be the jury and executioner. If there are any among you who do the things you find sinful, don’t associate with them. Shun them. Put them out to pasture. Don’t even break bread with them. It’s okay. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Give them a time out, place them on restriction, and put their noses in the corner.

That seems to be your favorite pass-time, anyway. I thought cannibalism had been pretty well outlawed within your ranks, but you all seem rather comfortable with the practice of eating each other for breakfast. Knock yourselves out. There are some 30,000 plus denominations of Christianity, not including Catholicism which has around 245 religious orders or rites. I’m not sure what the difference is except that all of those 245 religious rites still answer to the same Pope so I guess that means it’s just one. Even though they all practice their worship a little bit differently, which isn’t the same, so not one? ‘I see’, said the blind man.

Regardless, it’s helping people to see that it’s all a little bit…well…hokey. So all those people you shun will either go on feeling guilty and horrible and terrible about themselves or they’ll decide they don’t need your approval and move on. With your church discipline it places the disciplinee on the outside; like they’re not even believers. Most of you would say they aren’t True Believers™, anyway. This brings me to my next point:

If they aren’t True Believers™ you shouldn’t be judging them, anyway. Put ’em out of your fellowship and leave them be. What’s that? You don’t believe me? “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” 1 Corinthians 5: 12-13. There you go. Right there from your good book. Instruction manual on how to treat unbelievers.

Do you know what else that means? Your church rules and your Christian law book only apply to you and your fellowship of believers. So stop trying to apply them to everybody else. Gay marriage? Abortion? Not your concern unless it’s happening in your congregation. I think it would still suck air to be so rude to your professing brothers and sisters in Christ to treat them so callously, but there’s your recourse. That’s it. Put them out of fellowship and leave them be. But that’s all you’ve got.

You see, this country is not a church. Our forefathers went to great lengths to spell out in great detail that the government would not and could not sponsor a state religion. Therefore, if you are a Christian and you want to live out your life till the cold, clammy hand of death comes to take you to become dust again being one, that’s your prerogative. And if you want to spend your days on this earth with your nose turned up, looking down on unbelievers because they aren’t livin’ right, that’s your prerogative, too. But what you don’t get to do is tell anyone else how they get to live.

Sure, you can go in the voting booth and pull the lever whichever way tickles your fancy and you can spend your very last dime campaigning for whatever cause is near and dear to your heart. That’s the way it works. But what you don’t get to do is be the judge, jury, and executioner of those who don’t subscribe to your beliefs. It’s not your place and it’s certainly not your right. Put your gavel down and go on about your business.

Kindest Regards,

Ruth

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That Depends on What the Meaning of ‘Is’ Is (or what is the definition of person) Part 2

If you’re just joining in it probably be helpful to read my last post: That Depends on What the Meaning of ‘Is’ Is (or what is the definition of person) Part I

*Trigger Warning – This is a difficult, complex, controversial, and divisive subject.  As such people become highly impassioned.  For that reason I’m going to ask that if you can’t be respectful please move on.  This is the final installment of a two-part series.

So when exactly is a person a person?  Does it help to define it?  Does it even matter?  In the last several days I’ve come across new information. It’s not really new information but it is new information to me. Not even so much new information as a new perspective.  It is a perspective that has caused me to re-think my unabashedly pro-choice position.  Have I learned nothing from my Fundamentalist Christian group-think days?  Don’t important positions require re-examination?  Have I not just become a fundamentalist of another kind if I’m not open to new information?

There are a number of distinct moments that can be thought of as the beginning of personhood and there is no scientific consensus. Personhood is a question of philosophy – not science.  As an atheist shouldn’t science inform our philosophy – especially if we also call ourselves Humanists? It is a question of ethics. So what does science tell us about the beginning of human life?

Embryologists agree that human development, and thus human life, begin at fertilization.  How could development occur without it being a living organism?  A human living organism.  Did we really need an embryologist to tell us this?  Not really.  We know that’s when life begins.  A sperm and ovum meet, become a unique living organism, implant themselves(if they are healthy) to a woman’s uterus, and begin growing(again, if they are healthy). There are terms for this.  Zygote, Embryo, Fetus.  These are stages of maturity within the human life – the birds and the bees; the facts of life.

The conversation about abortion is not one of life but of one personhood.  If a human being is a person and a person is a human being then how is a zygote not a person? Just because there are medical terms for these stages of development do not mean they are any less human or any less a person.  There are medical terms for every stage of human development.  Infant, toddler, adolescent, adult.

We would call a brain-dead individual a brain-dead person.  They don’t cease being a person because they are dead.  On the whole we would agree that even a brain-dead individual should be treated with respect.  Would we dismember them?  Typically not without their consent obtained beforehand.  Even when it isn’t obtained before hand family members make this decision based on what they know of the individual and their wishes.  Even in death we take their well-being into consideration.  We are, rightly, mortified when we hear of cases of illegal organ harvesting or postmortem dismemberment.  It is a question of ethics.

According to Wikipedia Humanism is a movement of philosophy and ethics that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers individual thought and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism).

Being pro-life, in my opinion, has more of a basis in Humanism than any other.  We should be ever evolving based on what we know based on facts.  Scientific fact is that human life does begin at conception. And this human being is a unique individual – not just a part of the female. It is completely separate and whole, though not mature.  A fetus is a human being at the very beginning of maturity.  Human beings do not begin at birth.  Shouldn’t we protect the weak?  Does personhood even figure into the equation, then?  In my personal opinion a human being is a person regardless of status.

What does that mean for legalized abortion, then?  Does that mean we should criminalize the practice?  Throughout history, in every civilization, in every era there has been the practice of abortion.  Women have undertaken the risky practice of drinking all sorts of concoctions, using crude and unsterilized tools, and enlisting the help of others to perform abortions.  Women have both obtained abortions legally and illegally.  Isn’t criminalization really just an interest in punishing the participants?  Laws against abortion seek to penalize practitioners and not necessarily women who obtain abortions but, either way, it really is only dealing with punishment.  What should we conclude about this?  Criminalization doesn’t work.  It is like treating the symptoms of a disease with no cure.  It is much like America’s War on Drugs and it’s War on Poverty.

I don’t think that abortion will ever be eliminated completely.  For all their religiosity and their piety concerning abortion between 1973 and 2008 Protestants make up 37% of women obtaining abortions and Catholics make up 28%.[1]  That’s more than half.  These are women who, while the practice isn’t illegal, supposedly violate their own consciences.  Is a law going to change that?  As a pro-life advocate shouldn’t the goal be reducing the number of abortions – not punishment?

I submit that the answer lies in our attitudes toward women and their rights and autonomy before pregnancy occurs. If you want to reduce or end abortion ask yourself why a woman feels the need to have an abortion in the first place and address those needs.

I would suggest that we stop, as a society, slut-shaming women who enjoy sex.  Stop making women feel as if having sex in general is wrong and something to be ashamed of regardless of marital status. If you belief that every life is valuable don’t you think it devalues a woman when you make her feel ashamed of her own body and her own sexuality?  Isn’t that committing murder in and of itself?  Many religious women consider having or do have abortions because they know that the world will know that have have been having sex.

If you want to make laws regarding reproductive rights start with requiring employers, regardless of religious affiliation, to cover contraception as part of their insurance coverage.  Let contraception be between a woman, her partner, and her God or lack thereof.  Start effective sex education which includes abstinence and proper use of contraception.  Prepare people to be responsible with decisions with regards to sex, not as a matter of religion, but as a matter of pragmatism.  Let people who can’t afford contraception know that there are options.  In my particular state the Department of Health issues contraception to those who are unemployed and minors free of charge.  This is not a known fact.  Advertise it.  Contraception is less expensive than pregnancy.  My state’s Department of Health also provides prenatal care on the same basis.

Offer practical solutions to women who are not prepared to be mothers.  Sometimes, even used correctly, contraception fails.  Stop being so high and mighty, get off your high horse, put your damn picket sign down and put your money where your mouth is.  Begin to act with compassion instead of judgement.

[1] http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html

*Edited to add:  If you would like more information about arguments from pro-life humanists please visit http://www.prolifehumanists.org/.


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That Depends on What the Meaning of ‘Is’ is (or what is the definition of person) Part I

*Trigger Warning – This is a difficult, complex, controversial, and divisive subject.  As such people become highly impassioned.  For that reason I’m going to ask that if you can’t be respectful please move on.  This is the first installment of a two-part series.

As a Christian I was unapologetically pro-life. Every life was precious because every life was God’s.  I knew without a doubt that life began at conception, not because of science, but because of scripture.  Specifically Psalm 139: 13-16:

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

When I say that I was unapologetically pro-life I mean that I didn’t see any wiggle room.  There was no gray area;  no exceptions for rape or incest. Convinced that abortion was tantamount to murder,  I was loud and proud.  It never occurred to me that the person sitting next to me could have had an abortion for any reason; that my words were probably like daggers to their heart.  Every life was precious in God’s sight, right?  And if it did hurt their feelings, then so be it.  Sometimes the truth hurts.  That right there is how you show that Christian love and compassion.  Come on in and get you some.

Most conservative evangelicals say they believe these things.  The reality doesn’t bear that out, though.  I posted about my teenage friend whose parents thought she had been raped so they had the fetus aborted. Her father was a deacon in the church.

Then there was my Christian friend who had IVF.  She was implanted with five fertilized eggs.  They all implanted, but it made her pregnancy high risk, she had three of them selectively, therapeutically aborted.  I remember wondering how she decided which ones to abort.

Finally there was the conversation I had with my (then)husband, also a deacon, about abortion in the case of rape.  I posed the hypothetical that I had been raped and remarked that even if I were raped I didn’t think I could have an abortion because the fetus was an innocent. I would carry to term and then place for adoption. He informed me that I would have an abortion. His rationale was that if I didn’t have an abortion he couldn’t be certain I was raped, most certainly not since I wanted to have the baby.  Even if I had been raped, if I didn’t terminate the pregnancy, he’d be resentful and man to me about it.  Didn’t he mean even more mean?

I also hadn’t considered these scriptures:

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[c] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing. 16 The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries. Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”~ Numbers 5

22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” ~Exodus 21

The religious really don’t have a leg to stand on where abortion is concerned. Apparently their own God doesn’t give the same value to the unborn as the born. As atheists, though, is that the measuring stick we would want to use to decide the value of human life?  Where does that leave us?  Are religious considerations the only reasons to be pro-life?

When I left Christianity I rejected that idea.  I decided that individual autonomy and women’s rights were more important.  Then I became unapologetically pro-choice, believing that women should have access to abortion on demand and that it shouldn’t matter what her reasons for abortion are.  Isn’t it a private matter, after all?  Shouldn’t this be between her and her physician?  A woman should not be coerced into – nor out of – the decision whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term.

My consideration for this came from the viewpoint that while, yes, some form of life does begin at conception, that fetus doesn’t become a person until an EEG pattern can be detected.  We consider a person who has no brain activity to be brain-dead. In the same regard life doesn’t begin until brain activity occurs.

But is that true?  A person who is brain-dead has no potential to be brain-alive again.  Even then sometimes we want to hang onto them – not willing to give up hope – as exampled by the Terri Schiavo case and more recently the Jahi McMath case.

How does Merriam-Webster define person?

per·son

noun \ˈpər-sən\: a human being

Okay.  Descriptive.  Helpful.  How does it define human being?

human being

noun

: a person

Delightful.

How, then, do we define personhood? Just when does a person become a human being? Or when does a human being become a person?