A womb with a view

A worldview, that is.

So while on the prowl around the interwebs for material to blog about, I came across a link through a blog from a blog from a something or other and…oh, I have no idea how I found it, but I did:  an open letter to the Goddess Temple of Orange County, California regarding a talk that was given there that elicited no small amount of emotion regarding the message that was given.

What followed in the comments of that blog post was nothing short of a marvel that I, as a Christian of a peculiarly evangelical flavor, could not help but find intriguing.  At the heart of the matter (or womb of the matter, in this case) was the status of transsexual women, and what the Goddess Temple said about them.  This triggered a small firestorm usually reserved for evangelicals, comparing them to segregationists, racists, bigots, and the like; but unlike evangelicals, everyone was tripping over themselves to affirm that everyone has their own truth and that reality is what we make it.

But this seemed…odd.   It’s a Twilight Zone-esque reversal; the pagans are the ones on the defense, instead of the usual suspects.  The discussion even followed the usual sequence: accusations of bigotry, appeals to relativism, accusations of money- and power-grubbing, more appeals to relativism, and finally an appeal to “why can’t we all just get along.”

So let’s look at some of the particular claims, by the blogger, the Presiding Priestess Ava of the Goddess Temple, and the various other commenters.

From the post itself:

The message today, that transwomen are less than women, that they’ve been violated and mutilated and deny the truth of who they are, is hurtful. It was like a blow to my face. In the Temple space, I felt safe and honored, and this was a violation of trust. It was a vulnerable time for participants, and you used that time to insert a painful topic when a group dialogue outside the safe space of Temple would have been more appropriate.

[…] I am a magickal person, and I shape my reality and defend it in accord with my will. Transgendered people, men AND women, CHOOSE to shape their bodies in accordance with their will.

[…] We shape our own reality. We hold the world in our hands. We can make it better.

I think the writer did an otherwise good job of setting out her grievance against the Goddess Temple for things she found grievous.  Well, the Presiding Priestess of the Goddess Temple took it upon herself to respond, and respond she did:

It is an intrinsic part of my thealogy that those I define as “women” are those bearing wombs. I honor all beings as they were created and think that we should have many more genders in America than just “male” and “female.” This would accurately reflect reality rather than what is happening now.

Say what?  She defends her stance when someone else objects, and claims that according to that view, a woman who had undergone a hysterectomy would be ‘less than a woman.”  She responds:

Having a womb removed due to surgery is like having any other body part surgically removed. Because humans can be defined as “bi-pedal” does not mean if you lose your leg in an accident that you are no longer human. If you were born with a womb and had it removed due to surgery, you are still a woman by our definition.

At this point I realized I was seeing something that I’ve never seen before: a pagan sexual teleology…and one that bore no small resemblance, if only in appearance, to a classical theistic view of sexuality, if for a completely different purpose–one of magic.  But it didn’t go in that direction:

For your sister who was born with ovaries and fallopian tubes but no uterus, I would have to have more information before I can comment. Perhaps this is similar to a human being born without legs …. a variation on the common form. Still human, of course. A human born without a womb? Perhaps a similar variation … and if there were a large percentage of such humans born … perhaps their own gender should be defined, acknowledged and celebrated! As I repeatedly say, American culture is wrong to jam people into two genders only.

Ironically she contradicts her own earlier statement about what makes us human; I would simply contend that it extends to sexuality as well; those born with incomplete genitalia, or those whose privates go through a privation (ok, I really couldn’t help it there) are still male or female; we are not less than either male or female any more than we are less than human if we’re missing things.  Of course all of this gets to the ‘essential-versus-accidental’ properties of what makes us human, and sexuality is included in that.  But on we go.  Ava tries her best to explain why it’s important that transsexual women need to find their own house of worship:

When I as Presiding Priestess ask all in circle to “place their hands on their wombs,” energetically, there needs to be a physical or etheric womb there in order to do so, otherwise it doesn’t make sense … it doesn’t acknowledge reality.

“Acknowledge reality?”  All bets are off when every last participant in the discussion harangues each other with “we create our own reality.”  Acknowledge whose reality, exactly?  (How about mine?)  Either you create reality or you acknowledge it.  The only thing between these two options is an awful lot of irony.

But the reason for needing to have been born with a womb is because it’s needed for the energies it provides for the service.  And I found this interesting, because it seems like within her worldview she has a point, a certain consistency, and she sticks by her guns when it comes to trying to defend it, but it still falls apart at the “create your own reality” song and dance.  The greater questions, about the nature of truth, the nature of humanity, and (most of all) the question of the existence and nature of God have yet to be asked, much less answered (though something about Patriarchy gets brought up at this point; helloooooo genetic fallacy!).

She concludes:

The essential question is: are we entitled to hold meetings of any kind, and say “only one type of human is permitted at this meeting?” If you say “no, everyone should be able to come to any meeting at The Temple at any time for any reason,–no discrimination!” then you would have to disagree with our right to “woman only” space, regardless of how you defined “woman.” If you say “yes, The Temple should be able to hold meetings for like groups of people as those groups define themselves and as they choose to meet,” then logically you would have to agree that we are also entitled to choose to have a type of meeting that is for “womb bearing humans” only.

Really.  Why does all of this sound so familiar?  Did I fall into some alternate reality?

And the irony of her defense was certainly not lost on her opponents.

At this point the conversation took a somewhat sensationalistic turn accusing the Goddess Temple in general, and Ava in particular, of heinous character flaws and such that are outside the scope of this post.  However, before the dust settled (and it hasn’t completely settled, that’s for sure), this comment showed up from another reader.  This was directed at poor Ava.

You have every right to worship as you please. You have every right to define “women” as you please. Your definitions and rules are close-minded, bigoted, and offend me. I have a right to say that. Since it seems to matter to you, I will point out that I am a women, was born in this gender, and am gloriously happy to be a woman. However, I will defend until my last breath the right of others to decide for themselves who they are and how they want to present themselves. I got handed this body and this perception of self from the Universe and so did every other person, trans or not, cis or not, whole or changed, male or female or neither or both, AND YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO DECIDE WHETHER THEY ARE RIGHT OR WRONG, NOT FOR ANYONE OTHER THAN YOURSELF.

Surely I am not the only one that noticed that she was more than confident about telling Ava how wrong she was, while saying (in caps-lock, no less) that no one can decide what’s right or wrong for anyone else.

What a trainwreck of worldviews.  In light of all of this, Jesus’ invitation to “take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” looks more inviting than ever.

By all means, appeal to reality.  That’s how we find truth.  But the laws of logic don’t stop at the doorstep of spirituality.  Or wombs, for that matter.

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Aren’t you just giving them money?

“David, are you crazy?  They get money every time you mention them or blog on them!”

Yes, they do.  I’ve got good reasons to speak up even if there are potentially negative consequences.

First, if what I’ve said is true, then it’s worth saying because of a much greater good that will result, and with the publicity they’ve gotten, those that will see their mentions of me will simply allow more people to evaluate my claims for themselves.

Second, it is an emotional attempt to silence opposition–I am not asked to be silent because I am not correct, or whatever else, I am asked to be silent because of a sort of blackmail.  Do they have the right to do it?  Sure–it’s their prerogative.  I would not suggest pro-lifers engage in the same tactic, though; as this sort of thing totally sidesteps the real issues at hand and is just an invitation to distractions.  If we need fundraising, we should solicit it on the merit of what we say and do, not on the actions of our opponents.  Our case is more than strong enough to withstand scrutiny.

But as my tagline says, sometimes it’s worth speaking up.  Now happens to be one of those times.  I will say the truth, even if those who who ideologically disagree with me might be aided, because their gain from my writing is, at worst, a contingent evil (whereas theirs are a necessary evil, that is to say, inherently so), and the benefits of speaking up now are really quite large.  This is little more than a cheap attempt to stifle discussion, and it won’t work–it is better to speak up now and risk a few more dollars to an immoral purpose than to stay silent and, by my silence, say something I do not want to: that abortion is a morally valid choice.

Faith Aloud’s November 2011 Newsletter, and reasons for life

Welcome back.  This time, we’re going to be taking a look at the November 2011 newsletter from Faith Aloud, the creators of the 40 Days of Prayer campaign.  I would like to use this as a springboard, of sorts, to look at the 40 prayers themselves.

In the section entitled “Pray to End Sidewalk Bullying,” we find:

This campaign was a direct response to an anti‐choice group called “Operation Rescue” (or “Operation Save America”) who semi‐annually plans 40‐day intensive protests on clinics in hopes of bullying patients and doctors out of a woman’s right to choose. During the “40 Days for Life” campaign, the amount of protesters often doubles outside of clinics. Parents pull their children out of school to picket, buses of youth groups are dropped off, and large congregations appear, sometimes to scream at women that they are murderers going to hell, other times trying to offer them inaccurate information, while endlessly harassing the clinic staff members.

Wait a minute…what’s this?  Created in direct response to 40 Days for Life?  What was that that Rev. Rebecca Turner said in her interview with Focus on the Family?

Focus on the Family:  Reverend Rebecca Turner says the title of the prayer campaign is named after Lent, and has nothing to do with the 40 Days for Life event.

Rev. Turner: During Lent, to say that there is, um, that there is a compassionate voice out there with religious people who are supportive of women in difficult situations.

So was it created in response to FDFL, or not?  Am I supposed to believe the interview, or the newsletter?  I presume that this is a case of confusion, because if it’s a case of dishonesty, that would not be good.

Side note: 40 Days for Life was not created by, and is not even endorsed by, Operation Save America.  That is simply factually incorrect.  Also, I think the 40 Days for Life folks would be interested to know if their participants really are engaging in bullying or harassment, contrary to the stated principles and goals of their campaigns.

Contradiction aside, all we see here are sweeping assertions: of bullying (when? where?  documentation?), inaccurate information (what?), hate (what constitutes hate?), among other things (lollygagging comes to mind).

I am not going to pretend that it is not stressful to be picketed.  I have been on both sides at different times: picketed some times, picketing others.  But to simply complain about the presence of people who disagree does not answer the reasons they have for doing so.

Moving along…

Victory in Mississippi!
“Eggs are People”
Initiative Defeated!
We thank Mississippi citizens who voted down legislation that would have given full personhood rights to fertilized eggs. Not only would all abortion have been banned, but also many forms of birth control and in‐vitro fertilization. Although many news outlets expected the proposition to pass, the bill was defeated by a significant margin, with 58% against, and 42% for.

Anyone notice anything wrong with this paragraph?  It is biologically incorrect to speak of embryos as ‘fertilized eggs,’ because such a term is a contradiction in terms.  If an egg gets fertilized, it ceases to be an ‘egg’ and becomes a ‘zygote.’

There’s something else here that needs attention: the “given full personhood rights” language.  What constitutes a person?  For the record, I don’t much like the language of ‘personhood’ because it frequently avoids the bigger, more fundamental, question: what makes us human?  This question gets to the heart of the matter: what is the unborn?  If humanity is not determined by size, location, degree of dependency, or degree of development, or other accidental properties, then we are always human, from the first unique cell, and therefore the subject of human rights by way of being members of the human family.  The measures of personhood are often contrived (consciousness, viability, sentience, capability, wantedness, etc) and are not essential attributes of human beings.

Before I continue, and certainly before I look at the prayers themselves, I need to set out my rationale for opposing abortion.  Specifically, the claim that abortion is a moral action.

This rationale is really quite simple.  If the unborn are not fully human, then abortion is morally acceptable.  The unborn are fully human, therefore, abortion is not morally acceptable.

When I say that the unborn are fully human, I am not saying that they are fully developed humans.  I am saying that from the first cell, that a new individual has come into being, that has everything he or she needs to develop into an adult, provided that that process is not interrupted.  Humanity is not determined based on non-essential characteristics like size, location, degree of development, or degree of dependency; therefore, even if a human being does not have the capability to immediately exercise a particular act, it does not make him or her less than human–in other words, it is what we are, not what we can or cannot do, that determines our humanity. This means that we are all morally equal.

But if we are all members of the human family by virtue of essence, rather than accident, it means that all the members of that family are subject to certain rights based upon their moral status.  Historically, this has been the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and these rights are not contingent upon our ability to immediately exercise certain capabilities (like the right to vote or drive), but upon our nature.

This moral status is also an objective one; that is, it cannot be the case for one person that the unborn has this status and true for another that the unborn does not: either both of them are wrong, or one of them is wrong.  This status is not religiously derived, either: this is well within the bounds of philosophy and embryology, so the “this is just a religious thing” line doesn’t really work here.

But it means that how we frame the discussion has to change.  What I mean is that when abortion proponents use the language of “choice,” one important question gets begged: what choice, exactly?  The language of ‘choice’ is only valid if and only if abortion is morally equivalent to the alternative.  But if abortion is not morally equivalent to its alternatives, then the language of choice does not apply. Does this indeed mean that the “anti-choice” label sticks?  No.  There is nothing wrong with making choices where the alternatives are morally equal.  Abortion is not one of those choices, because it infringes upon the most basic rights of all humans.

That’s all I’ll say for now about why I think and act the way I do about abortion, but this should lay a decent framework for looking at the content of the prayers suggested by Faith Aloud.

Suggested reading for pro-life ethics and philosophy:  The Case for Life, by Scott Klusendorf; Defending Life, by Francis Beckwith; Embryo by Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen.

Faith Aloud interview with RH Reality Check

I had planned on making my first substantive blog post on the November 2011 newsletter of Faith Aloud, but checking Twitter caused me to push that back to a somewhat later date.  It seems that Faith Aloud did an interview with RH Reality Check, and they were quite pleased with how that interview turned out.

It became readily apparent that this interview needed an answer before I posted my thoughts on the prayers themselves, or even looking at the 2011 newsletter, because it makes some…interesting claims about the “anti-choice” crowds at abortion clinics, though it mentions none by name.   The Reverend Rebecca Turner, who is the Executive Director for Faith Aloud (hereafter FA), was interviewed.  This was not the only interview they have given recently, and FA has otherwise been unhappy with how those interviews turned out.

So on to the interview itself.

Why did you write the 40 Days of Prayer?   

I wrote some prayers and offered them to abortion providers to use whenever and however they wanted to. We’ve since made a full poster of the prayers that is on the walls in many clinics across the country. We were angered by the swarms of protesters that regularly took siege of abortion clinics and would hurl hateful remarks at the women arriving. As a Christian minister, I was especially angered that most of these protesters who were so hateful and judgmental actually call themselves Christian. I wanted women to know that many Christians are compassionate and supportive, and to help them find strength in their religious faith instead of condemnation.

Before I say anything else, I would like to say that I have seen some groups who do exactly this: who hurl condemnation, judgment, and are the equivalent of a verbal trebuchet.  They are making a very, very, bad impression on everyone, not just those inside the clinic.  So I’ve seen how not to do pro-life counseling in front of clinics.

But something is missing from this evaluation: namely, do the ‘judgmental’ have a point?  Sure, they might be terrible messengers, but do they have a real message in there somewhere?  (They might not.  My interaction with them seems to indicate a lack of sophistication when it comes to the finer details of pro-life ethics.)  On that note, what about the 40 Days for Life folks: do they have a point?  Is simply standing with a sign (and/or rosary, or cross, or whatever) a ‘hateful’ act of ‘judgmentalism?’  Hateful?  Not necessarily.  Judgmental?  Yes–but judgment in and of itself is not a sin: they might well be right, and we have tools to determine the rightness of that judgement.    But since all we get from the interview is “these people are hateful,” we have no interaction with the case for life that we make.  Simply dismissing them as with the slur-du-jour isn’t enough.

I’m curious, though.  What is said that constitutes “hate?”  Can we see some examples?  “These people are saying X, Y, and Z” would be a very quick way to effectively engage the claims themselves.

Many websites are claiming that we’re praying for more abortions, which is silly. They can read the prayers and see that isn’t the case. Most of the prayers are really all about women and their reproductive lives. We pray for gender discrimination to cease. We pray for women who are abused. We pray for women who are infertile. We pray for women to have confidence. How can they be upset by this? Really I think the only objection to these prayers comes from a deep misogyny that refuses to acknowledge women as autonomous beings with their own spiritual lives.

When asked about the impetus for the prayers, these were the reasons given–but they perhaps missed a good opportunity to ‘seek common ground’ (a complaint that shows up later).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.–Galatians 5:22-23, ESV

“Against such things there is no law.”  I think I speak on behalf of an awful lot of Christians who peacefully oppose abortion in saying that we are seriously interested in pursuing the truth of the matter of abortion, to follow the facts where they lead, and doing so with the fruit of the Spirit.  We pray, and invite, those aligned with FA to do the same.  See?  Common ground.

But there’s a little more to this paragraph than that.  A few prayers very much do pray that abortion is at least left untouched or made more available–as we will see when I post my thoughts on the prayers themselves.  On that note, I will give a bit of a preview and say that I heartily agree with at least a few of the prayers as they are written…and could well have been written (and written better, but I digress) by pro-lifers.

But it is beyond absurd to claim that the only reason pro-lifers are getting their dander up about these prayers is “deep misogyny.”  Slander by any other name smells just as bad.  But the theme reappears: what if they have a point?  Could it possibly be that they have well-thought, conscientious reasons to find such prayers offensive (and most of them simply wrong things to pray for)?  We don’t know.  Instead, we’re told we just hate women.

Hint: With language like this, don’t complain that you can’t find common ground.

How would you characterize the main reactions you have received since this flurry of publicity?  

The media to date has been from anti-choice groups, so most of the people calling and writing to us are their constituents. They are quite hostile, usually rambling, callers are often screaming. They accuse us of pretending to be ministers or Christians. They accuse us of baby-murdering. Emails quote a lot of scripture and tell us we’re going to burn in hell.  We have had some new supporters find us through this, though. And we’ve begun a campaign called “Hate-into-Love” which allows our supporters to pledge donations for each hostile contact we receive.

“Baby-murdering”–that’s sort of an interesting phrase in light of the interview with Focus on the Family.

Focus on the Family interviewer: And is that fetus a baby?

Turner: That answer’s gonna be different for every person who calls themself pro-choice, but for me personally, that, uh, significantly depends on the stage of development. […] I cannot equate that early embryonic life with, with your life.

Interestingly, this represents the first time that FA has actually tried to defend their stance on abortion.  But it is hopelessly flawed: is humanity simply a matter of what each individual person thinks?  Can it really be the case that the unborn are “human for you, but not for me?”  Such a claim is a violation of the law of non-contradiction; a fetus cannot both be human and not-quite-human at the same time. Even granting that the interviewer and an embryo are not developmentally equal, their moral equivalency is not mentioned.  Are they morally equal?  Why or why not?  I would argue that based on embryology, and philosophy, that all humans, even embryos, share an essential nature that makes us all human and thus makes us subjects of human rights.  So: If we are to take Turner seriously, then for the pro-lifers, it is true that Faith Aloud is abetting ‘baby-murderers,’ but for Turner, it is not.

On that note: why determine humanity with development?  Where at in development, for that matter?  Modern embryology does not allow for development to determine when we ‘become’ human–we either are or we aren’t.  Side note: David Bereit did not do that good of a job trying to answer Turner.  And the interviewer from Focus set, and walked into, his own trap by asking if “a fetus was a baby.”  This is otherwise technically imprecise; ‘fetus’ and ‘baby’ are terms for stages of development.  A pro-lifer can say without blinking that a fetus is not a baby, but–and this is the point that Focus missed–the fetus is fully human.

Lastly,

In the several days that news of the “40 Days of Prayer” has gone viral, you have received much hate mail. Have you received anything from any anti-choice individual or group that suggests some common ground? 

No.  The hate mail tends to fall into these camps “You have no right to call yourself a Christian or pray” or “I’m praying for God’s vengeance on you.” We’re getting some love mail, too, with people finding us for the first time and saying thank you for being a religious voice of compassion and reason.

Well, I’d sure like for this to be the first.  As a pro-lifer I think that our positions, and even our prayers, are worth subjecting to scrutiny in the court of public opinion.  Unfortunately, I do not see much acknowledgement of the really good pro-life positions (think Stand to Reason, Life Training Institute, etc.).  I’d like to see what Faith Aloud has to say about their claims, since there is no shortage of information at either site regarding the ethics of abortion.

Next up will probably be a look at FA’s November 2011 newsletter since it makes some interesting comments that are worth taking a look at.  Then will be a closer look at the prayers themselves.

Hi.

Alrighty, I have a blog now.  I’ll probably create a post soon explaining the gist of the blog, and other things.

I will say right off the bat that I decided to create a blog for the things that I wanted to write about, but didn’t want to keep constrained to Facebook or Theologyweb.

I have a few things I’d like to write on; this includes a few fairly recent things, and one or two ideas I’ve had on the back burner for a while.  Up first will be a critique of the contents of Faith Aloud’s November 2011 newsletter, and a look at their “Forty Days” prayers.  One thing I have wanted to comment on for quite some time is the “Myths and Facts” page from the Missouri Roundtable for Lifesaving Cures page. That thing is an ethical and philosophical trainwreck that needs to be put out of its misery.

So that’s for the short-term.  Apologetics and philosophy will be within the purview of this blog.