The President’s reckless rhetoric

 […] This is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

–From the Statement by the President on Roe v. Wade Anniversary, January 22, 2014

So end President Obama’s remarks about Roe v. Wade and his administration’s official stance on abortion, released on the 41st anniversary of the decision.  Unfortunately, the President’s remarks are deeply problematic, for reasons he probably didn’t intend.

The problem lies with the rhetoric: it is broad.  Too broad.  Much too broad.  So broad that an aircraft carrier can be parallel parked in the gap it leaves.  The logic of the statement is quite simple: abortion is a good thing because it helps women maintain equal footing and allows them to pursue their goals.  What could possibly be wrong with such a statement?

In his article for the Christian Research Journal, bioethicist Scott Klusendorf quotes several ethicists who defend the position that newborns and infants may be terminated on the basis of disability or a simple lack of development, or simply because they are not considered persons who have human rights until a given point after birth.  Klusendorf quotes Singer:

“Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”

Consider also, from his textbook Practical Ethics:

When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of the happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.

To be fair, Singer says that in most cases infanticide may be morally wrong–but that claim seems dubious in light of his much earlier claim about the moral worth of the lives of newborns.  But Singer is not alone.  Other ethicists have echoed Singer and have gone farther than him.  Klusendorf quotes Michael Tooley from 1972, the year before Roe, and draws the logical conclusion:

“[A human being] possess[es] a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity.”  Infants do not qualify.

Klusendorf’s discussion of another ethicist’s comments deserve attention as well.

More recently, American University philosophy professor Jeffrey Reiman has asserted that unlike mature human beings, infants do not “possess in their own right a property that makes it wrong to kill them.” He explicitly holds that infants are not persons with a right to life and that “there will be permissible exceptions to the rule against killing infants that will not apply to the rule against killing adults and children.”

So with these philosophers in mind, let’s revisit the President’s remarks.  The logic is unambiguous: if abortion can allow a woman to achieve her goals, it should be permissible.  But the President’s rhetoric is careless: these ethicists have given reasons why they think infanticide should be permissible, and all of them are grounded in the same defense of abortion that Obama has appealed to.

Which raises some uncomfortable questions for President Obama.  What reasons can he give for his stated defense of abortion that do not equally apply to Singers,’ Tooley’s, and Reiman’s defenses of infanticide?  If abortion–the act of ending a human life–is acceptable at one stage based upon the physical attributes of the unborn, as far as the ambitions of women or families are concerned, then Singer’s point that the newly born are developmentally similar to the unborn means that Singer and company can (and has)  use that very same rhetoric in the defense of infanticide on the basis that it will allow for the very same goals and opportunities to be pursued.

Which is surely not what the President meant to say, but the logic of his statement is unavoidable.  Why not follow Singer, Tooley, and others in their arguments about abortion and infanticide?  Would not more goals and ambitions be pursued by allowing infanticide?  Surely the good would outweigh the bad in such a scenario.  If size, location, or degrees of dependency or development can be appealed to to terminate a human being so that another can achieve a particular objective, why not grant more achievement?

But Singer is right in pointing out that newborns are developmentally similar to their unborn counterparts, and there is something of a circular firing squad within pro-choice philosophy.  To quote Christopher Kaczor, “Arguments against infanticide often apply equally well to abortion while arguments in favor of abortion often apply equally well to infanticide (The Ethics of Abortion, p. 41).”

And it is into this disturbing philosophical tempest that the President deploys his remarks.  Surely President Obama does not mean to allow such an application of his statement, but his sentiments are not used by defenders of abortion alone.  When his rhetoric can be used–and is used–by those defending infanticide, that rhetoric needs to be critically examined.

Is human life a spectrum? Responding to Seidensticker

Clinton Wilcox over at his blog is currently examining a collection of responses made to common pro-life arguments by one Bob Seidensticker at his own blog at Patheos.  While many of Seidensticker’s responses merit further discussion, many of them rely upon what he calls the “spectrum argument.” It comprises the backbone of his arguments in favor of abortion and for responding to anti-abortion arguments.

He then gives quite a few examples of what this spectrum looks like, as well as analogies that he asserts proves his point.  He argues from examples of a spectrum from blue to green, where colors in the middle of the spectrum are both blue and green, that the ends of the spectrum are definitely blue and green.  He makes his point concerning the question of when adulthood begins:

What age is the dividing line between child and adult? Twelve years? Eighteen? Twenty-one? It’s a spectrum, and there is no objectively correct line. Again, the line is debatable but no one doubts that a child and an adult are quite different.

Eventually he applies it to the question of the unborn:

At one end, we have arms and legs, fingers and fingernails, liver and pancreas, brain and nervous system, heart and circulatory system, stomach and digestive system—in fact, every body part that a healthy person has. And at the other, we have none of this. We have … a single cell. In between is a smooth progression over time, with individual components developing and maturing. That’s the spectrum we’re talking about.

Therefore, according to Seidensticker, because the properties that humans have at one end of the spectrum are not at the non-human end of the spectrum, that it is permissible to abort before human characteristics can be identified.

He continues:

Let’s approach this another way. Consider a brain with 100 billion neurons versus a single neuron. The single neuron doesn’t think 10–11 times as fast. It doesn’t think at all. The differentiation of the cells into different cell types and their interconnections in the newborn may count for even more than the enormous difference in the number of cells.

Note also that the difference between a newborn and an adult is trivial compared to the difference between the cell and the 1,000,000,000,000-cell newborn.

But is this an accurate critique of pro-life arguments about the nature of the unborn, and human nature in general?  I argue that it is philosophically and scientifically imprecise to regard the earliest stages of development as less than human.  Here’s why. 

To begin, embryology paints a different picture of the earliest stages of development than how Seidensticker treats them.  While he does mention cell differentiation as well as totipotency, I’m not sure he understands how they affect his argument.  In fact he accidentally gets it right by discussing making individual cells totipotent, which is to say that the entire genetic code of a cell has been activated so that it has become, in effect, a zygote: it will begin developing as a unique human being instead of developing its original particular type of tissue.

That totipotency makes the scientific difference for his case.  The zygote, by virtue of self-directed development, has the capacity to develop into a fetus, and the process by which one cell becomes many pluripotent cells that in turn become the myriad tissues that comprise the developing human.  By failing to acknowledge the ability of the zygote to ‘unfurl’ into a complete human being with no outside assistance (except by accident while trying to make trouble for pro-life arguments), his comparison to individual cells in a child or adult fails in its objective.  If the zygote is a human being at a particular stage of development (as an awful lot of embryology textbooks attest to), then his spectrum argument misses the point.

Seidensticker also attacks a strawman argument by carping about what the unborn is called at various stages of development, and references a common pro-choice argument: that a blueprint is not a house, that an acorn is not a tree, and that a cell is not a baby and a cell is not an adult.  Again, by failing to account for what kind of cell it is–that is, one that has the innate capacity to exercise self-development, as opposed to one that can only develop into a very specific type of tissue–his argument fails.  He is right to describe the differences between a zygote and a newborn as a vast degree, but attempting to show a difference in kind he misses the point.

As most any pro-lifer would argue, of course a cell isn’t a newborn and an acorn isn’t a tree and a blueprint isn’t a house.  But this is a misunderstanding of what the embryo actually is.  An acorn is very much not a tree, but there is no question that an acorn and the tree it may become is not a member of a particular species.  We can identify a type of acorn as belonging to a particular kind of tree; similarly we can identify an embryo as belonging to a particular species of animal.  (More on that later.)  But the analogy with the blueprint and the house falls flat: the zygote (and later embryo) are not just the ‘plans’ for a living human being, but have the capacity to develop as long as that process is not interrupted.  A blueprint cannot potentially become a house; it will always be a blueprint.  An embryo, by distinction, has the capacity to develop by virtue of what it is.

It is worth noting that the term ‘baby’ is indeed scientifically imprecise and can refer to both born and unborn, but scientific precision doesn’t seem to be in sight with this particular argument–in fact, it depends on the science not being precise.  If the science of embryology is precise on when a distinct human being comes into existence where none was before, then his argument is imperiled.  The embryology textbooks above gravely imperil the argument.

The philosophical problems with the case fare much worse.  Seidensticker completely fails to account for the concepts of act and potency, and ‘essential’ and ‘accidental.’  (From the sound of things, some of the arguments he responds to don’t account for them either, or do so very poorly.)

As regards act and potency: Any potency that a thing has is derived from what it is–which is to say, its actuality determines its potentiality.  What it is determines what it can do.  By simply dismissing the zygote as a ‘cell,’ he fails to account for the actuality of that particular cell as compared to the actuality of other cells.  The blueprint mentioned above does not have the potential to become a house by virtue of what it is: a fancy piece of paper.  A zygote has the potential to become a fetus, then a child, and then an adult by virtue of what it is: a human being at a particular stage of development, complete with everything it needs to develop.  That is why the blueprint argument fails, and the acorn argument is not an accurate representation of development within species.  All the characteristic organs he mentions as belonging to humanness are contingent upon the makeup of the zygote; they cannot therefore be what constitutes our humanity.  On that note:

As regards essential versus accidental properties: An essential property is exactly that: without an essential characteristic, something becomes something else.  An accidental property is one that does not change the essential nature of a thing.  For example, a human can have hair, but does not lose humanity by losing hair, or by having lighter or darker hair.  A human can lose fingers or limbs and still retains a human nature, because fingers or limbs are accidental, rather than essential, characteristics of a human being.  This is the key (essential, if you will) question: what makes us human?  If it is not our sensory organs, or if we are still human without particular functioning organs (heart, liver, lungs, with a few exceptions I’ll mention in a moment), then can we really say that our humanity arises somewhere on a spectrum?  It does not; it is the case that the spectrum of human development itself depends upon our essential human nature, which can be found from the very first distinct cell on.  Everything he appeals to, with a few anticipated exceptions, is contingent upon the actuality that the zygote already possesses.  This is why his argument fails, philosophically and scientifically speaking.  The zygote and embryo are very different in degree from a fetus, child, or adult; but it is not different in kind.  At every stage of development, the human being is a “unified entity” in the words of Christopher Tollefsen and Robert George.  That crucial difference is ignored by the spectrum argument, to its failure.

As to the exceptions I mentioned above: In one example responding to pro-life arguments, he mentions a hypothetical where only a person’s head was kept alive and suggests that of course he or she is less of a person.  This raises serious questions about the ability of the ‘spectrum’ to accurately determine humanity, by virtue of begging the question of what makes us human in the first place.  Naturally, I anticipate consciousness asserted as an essential characteristic of personhood, as well as the primacy of the brain as the control center of the body, but applying the spectrum to the ‘living head’ would not be pretty to the person whose body simply comprises a head.  Is the ability to immediately exercise a capacity, with the use of a whole human body, the requirement for determining humanness?  Can the ‘spectrum,’ with its lack of objectiveness, be trusted to provide the right outcome for the question of whether or not a technologically-augmented head is deserving of full human rights?  That answer is ‘no.’  But the pro-life argument can be trusted in such a case, by virtue of its philosophical understandings of act and essence.

For what it’s worth: Seidensticker mentions pro-lifers who say that “Some pro-life advocates argue that the humans at either end of this spectrum are identical in every meaningful way […].”  This is puzzling.  Who says so?  What does he mean when he says “identical in every meaningful way?”  Does he mean morally meaningful?  Identical as far as species and kind go?  That the embryo is genetically identical at all stages of development?  Or identical in some other sense?  Inquiring minds want to know.  Because without further substantiation, this looks suspiciously like a straw-man argument.  Which does not seem surprising considering that sophisticated pro-life philosophy seems absent in this particular critique.

(Sort-of-edit: Wilcox has responded to this as well at his own blog here.)

On Arguing Against “Anti-Choicers”

Early this month, Amanda Marcotte published a blog entry at RH Reality Check entitled “Anti-Choicers Can’t Get Around It: Their Arguments Have No Standing.”  This blog was linked on Twitter and elsewhere by a group out of St. Louis called Faith Aloud.

Marcotte mentions a particular lawsuit regarding the contraception mandate and the issue of legal standing, and then makes some sweeping generalizations about those she disagrees with.

To wit:

All their beliefs go back to the conviction that what other people, even perfect strangers, are doing in bed somehow affects them and so needs to be stopped by any means necessary.

And:

The problem with this belief is self-evident. What other people are doing with their bodies does not actually affect anti-choicers, and so their standing—not just legally, but morally—is always hard to impossible to establish. Thus, the never-ending parade of bad faith arguments and outright lies that come from anti-choicers.

Aside from the loaded language of “anti-choice” (most advocates of abortion choice dislike being called “pro-abortion,” after all), is this really the case?  Last I checked, the argument about abortion hasn’t been that it hurts us but that it hurts someone in particular: the unborn.  Does it surprise Marcotte that we don’t buy the “If it doesn’t hurt us personally” argument?  Could it be that it’s just not a solid argument?

Moving along:

Unable to come right out and say that they don’t want it to be too easy for women to have non-procreative sex, anti-choicers have instead latched onto this “religious freedom for employers” argument. Unfortunately, the argument doesn’t work without the assumption that your employer has some ownership over his employee’s private life, including her own religious beliefs.

Might it possibly be that “anti-choicers” don’t come right out and say they don’t want it to be too easy for women to have sex because…that’s not actually their concern?

The objection to the religious liberty of employers is mystifying.  In trying to assert that employers cannot tell employees how they can use their paychecks, she unwittingly makes the case that employers ought to be told how to use their own payrolls.  Why not go varsity with her own argument and apply it to everything else?  Why not food?  Utilities?  Gas?  Daycare?  Surely birth control is less important than all of that.  It would be a pleasant surprise if Marcotte answered the actual argument: that people should be free to use their paychecks as they see fit, not as how they think their employer should see fit.  If an employee at Hobby Lobby wishes to purchase birth control, well and good.  But the language of ‘imposition’ should apply to employers as well as employees.  If Marcotte applied her own standard to her own argument, this would be the result.

She then switches gears to discuss “standing” as the legal concept of a party to a legal case having actually been affected adversely by something.  She appeals to the criticism by conservatives of Miley Cyrus’ performance at the 2013 VMA show as evidence of people being upset about something not hurting them, and suggests a new reason we should be upset with Miley: ‘cultural appropriation.’

And what a criticism it is.  She links to a piece that, like several in the academic left after the performance, complained that Miley was wrong to 1) twerk, 2) slap the behind of her black backup dancer, and 3) a few other things I can’t describe here, not because they were wrong, but because she is white.

Last I checked, racism is telling someone they cannot do something because of their skin color.  Which is precisely the complaint against Miley by Marcotte and Friends: it wasn’t because it was demeaning to her as a woman, it wasn’t because it was appalling in general, it was because she lacked the appropriate skin pigmentation.

This is, essentially, a racist argument used by Marcotte and others.

Though, perhaps, Miley Cyrus could simply suggest that she is approaching race as others see fit to approach gender: malleable and ‘what we make of it.’  Who are they to judge her?  This critique of Miley is not the point; the point is that conservatives used it to once again tell women what they should do with their bodies (nevermind that Marcotte has a problem with it on basis of skin color rather than morality).

Marcotte then continues her screed by complaining about the complaints about Miley Cyrus: that it’s ‘slut-shaming’ and that women who do such things will be raped, or worse, get pregnant.  She then brings her blog full-circle by repeating her assertion: that at the core, the “anti-choice” cabal has nothing other than the desire to control the bodies of others and that they have no “good argument” for why we say what we do.  Everyone does metaphysics; to describe it as “people who want to control others” and “people who do not want to control others” misses the point entirely.  It’s not even applied fairly.

To be fair, I’m not sure Marcotte has tried very hard to look for any good arguments.  She does us a service by pointing out the bad ones (of which there are regretfully many).  Granted, she focuses more on the legal battle over the contraception mandate and not the philosophies in conflict, but in saying there are no good arguments for the conservative position, she is expressing ignorance about the philosophy with which she disagrees.  If David Boonin can write a very good blurb for Kaczor’s The Ethics of Abortion, I think Marcotte can do her homework and avoid saying regrettable things like this (or that it’s morally impossible to make such claims at all).

But Marcotte’s article brings its own criticism full-circle as well.  The argument goes that contraception doesn’t hurt “anti-choicers” who so bitterly and irrationally resist the calm and steady voice of reason.  I’m sure the folks that run Hobby Lobby don’t feel particularly ‘hurt’ by the multi-million-dollar fines they are racking up by disobeying the mandate.  I’m sure they’ll also not feel particularly ‘hurt’ by HHS and its supporters who so eloquently tell them to figure out what they’ll have to disobey to satisfy the demands of Marcotte and others.  Thomas Sowell describes at length in Vision of the Anointed how society as a whole has been adversely affected by the drive for sex education from the 1960s on, particularly in terms of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy.   And they certainly will not be ‘hurt’ by the imposition of a wishful, immature, half-baked philosophy that is wrecking our culture sexually (see Cyrus, Miley).  Except that we’re all being hurt by that.  And all the while, the most basic questions about the morality of actions is not even considered.

But until Marcotte critiques her own starting point and actually considers the good reasons for disagreeing with her, ultimately her position is a fundamentalist one.  Others have critiqued her work in the past, and things haven’t really changed since then.

Edit: Nick pointed out that others made a complete mockery of Marcotte’s attitude towards men with whom she disagrees.  I’d say it’s pretty accurate.

Phony Christians and phony outrage

Over the weekend a news show at MSNBC made some waves by making some bold claims regarding opposition to Obamacare by conservative Christians or politicians who say they are Christians.  Ted Cruz in particular was singled out for his comments about defunding ACA and also for his overtly Christian rhetoric.

The Blaze noticed the comments by Ed Schultz and promptly publicized them.

To quote from the Blaze piece:

“This is good for America and I won’t let them lie,” Schultz said. “They’re phony Christians. Phony Christians when they say that they are Christian but then they want to take away from their next door neighbor. They don’t want to be their brother’s keeper.”

“A growing number of right wing Christians are coming out day after day as a Christian,” he continued. “I think I have the right to expose their hypocrisy and call them out for all the things they are saying wrong and how misguided they are.”

[…]

“It is very simple. If ObamaCare is repealed, Americans will die. Children of God will die,” he said.

They are, of course, standard fare for politics and yet another common salvo against conservatives: A few weeks ago, President Obama said that “The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care,” among other things, and this is used to great effect in attack ads during every election.  Rhetorically, they have great strength, and are a reliable way to put an opponent on the defensive in a hurry without allowing much time or room to recover.  No one wants to have to answer the question of why they want others to suffer and die for seemingly insignificant reasons.  And it’s very easy to say the wrong thing trying to answer it.  Which is why we see it so much, and not just by liberals but by conservatives as well.  In the video segment linked by The Blaze, Cruz himself has difficulty answering a point-blank question of why he wants to take peoples’ health care away.

But Schultz’ comments about Christians who oppose Obamacare deserves comment first.  For starters, it begs all sorts of questions: Are Christians obligated to endorse anything that contains even the slightest bit of good?  Is the Golden Rule the Gospel?  Can a Christian be right about the Gospel and wrong about other things and still be a genuine Christian?   Is Ed Schultz a phony Christian himself for using a not-particularly-unique-to-Christianity-reason to call others phony?  (Answer: no.)

To put these questions (and Schultz’ comments) in perspective, we will reverse the situation.  Suppose that Ted Cruz states that only “phony Christians” oppose restrictions for abortion on demand.  (Hint: it would be Thunderdome.) Would Cruz be correct in saying that?  Of course not.  It would be as offensive as it is foolish.  And such is the case with Schultz’s comments.

On that note: What actually makes someone a Christian?  True, Jesus did command us to care for the poor, and the OT prophets spent an awful lot of time blasting the elite of Israel for their negligence in justice and caring for the poor even then, but is that what makes someone a Christian?   Last I checked, the Gospel has a little something to do with a Jewish preacher who was crucified for sedition and who, as his followers claimed, rose from the dead and promised to come again.  “Caring for others” is hardly a uniquely Christian trait, and is not what got Jesus crucified.

Now on to his most provocative claim: the claim that these “phony” Christians are just fine with, if not approving of, letting people die needlessly.  Or to put it as Obama did, conservatives are willing to let people slide straight into the grave because of some hidebound evidence-proof ideology.

But they have something in common that allows them to be easily answered.  And it’s time for this tactic to be neutralized.  Here’s how and why.

These comments make the mistake of confusing intention with foresight.  This is typically a distinction that only gets discussed in ethical situations that involve the abortion debate, but they are applicable here.  Furthermore, there is a difference between intrinsic evil and contingent evil at work here that blunts the attacks by Schultz and Obama.

If intention refers to the desire of a moral agent to bring something about, foresight is the ability to anticipate what might happen if a given event occurs.  Intrinsic evil is an act that is always wrong; it always (and intentionally) deprives someone of an inalienable good; a contingent evil is one that may result a deprivation of good that is not the intent of an act.  (One example used of a contingent evil is civilian casualties in a just war.  The casualties are foreseen as possible, but they are not intended and are not the goal of a just war.)  In this particular case, Schultz and Obama have switched the two, and accused their opponents of intending an outcome that is foreseen, and treating a contingent evil as though it were an intrinsic evil.

So revisiting the Schultz comments, what he has done is take a foreseen outcome and accused some Christians of making that the intended outcome, which is effectively a strawman attack.  It is true that some would die if Obamacare is repealed than if it were left in place, but these deaths are not the intent of those who oppose Obamacare.  And defending the defunding and repeal of Obamacare is much easier after distinguishing between intent and foresight, intrinsic and contingent evil.  Furthermore, it makes the attacks look unnecessarily harsh and foolish.

And Obama’s remarks about his Republican opponents fare no better: he has taken a foreseen consequence and accused the Republicans of making it their intended consequence.  It also helps that he has a willing media to faithfully repeat this attack.  And it also really helps that the Republicans who were the targets of these remarks are heretofore unable to effectively respond to them.

This distinction applies to other issues as well, particularly the marriage debate.  Recently I was asked why I wanted gay people to be unhappy.  But upon closer inspection, this too confuses intention with foresight: unhappiness is foreseen, but not intended, in saying traditional marriage has no other form than traditional marriage.  It might make some unhappy, but that is a foreseen consequence and not the intended consequence (which is stable, mother-father families).  Moreover, the usual moral framework is still in play: the moral status of homosexual acts, moral equivalence or neutrality, etc.  But knowing how to defuse a terribly intimidating attack may change how marriage is discussed, or at least remove some of the hostility–on both sides.  Defenders of traditional marriage use bad arguments too that can be answered using this distinction.

Of course, there is more wrong with Schultz’ remarks than just this confusion of intent and foresight.  Specifically, that the Christians who oppose Obamacare maintain their opposition to it on the grounds that intended, intrinsically evil acts are both allowed and mandated: the abortion mandate, the contraception mandate (as regards religious liberties), the death panels that suddenly don’t seem so outlandish, etc.  Yet Schultz ignores these, and simply accuses others of gross moral turpitude.  And it isn’t like the Republicans or the Christians Schultz accuses simply prefer no alternative to Obamacare other than death and destruction.  The Republican opponents of Obama maintain (and it should be noted this is up for debate) that the market is a better judge than government.  The Christian opponents of Obamacare maintain that government is not a good substitute for the church when it comes to charity, and for that reason oppose this particular ‘separation of church and state.’  And both typically think that government is not the only appropriate answer to human suffering.  Simply to say that Obamacare needs to be repealed is not to say that there should be no health care or charity at all.

So for Schultz, Obama, and others to malign their opponents with accusations of intent to harm, this amounts to slander.  An easily answerable slander at that.

Screwtape goes to Texas

(Somewhere in Hell)

My dearest Wormwood,

I must say it is with surprise and delight that you seem to be doing somewhat better for yourself having moved to the American Sector after that incident with the British fellow.  I will not deny that I was confounded when you sent that letter some time back saying “We need to wait it out and see what happens,” suggesting the situation after the latest of the humans’ big fancy wars was ripe for Infernal manipulation, but it seems you were right.

But word gets around down here; we had the internet installed quite some time ago (note: we had to settle for Comcast; don’t worry, they’ll get what’s coming to them in time) and we’ve been monitoring the situation in Texas for the last few weeks.  And we saw that some of your subjects were chanting “Hail, Satan” in some skirmish between those who support abortion and those who do not.

Unfortunately, word reached The Big Man Downstairs; He was none too thrilled that His title was taken so vainly.  It’s not that he disagrees with them; after all, they are on His side in the matter.  But it’s a matter of propriety.  His Maleficence doesn’t really want to be publicly associated with those who would actually defend the killing of viable children.  It’s a distraction.  So it needs to stop.  Also, it’s very bad PR, even for Satan.  He seems to think that the chanters were simply “trolling” (their word, not ours) the Enemy’s representatives.  As you know, He is much too grave a being to be trifled with like that.  Though He did commend them on their general Hellishness; they did a fine job of portraying the true nature of Hell, if you will recall our previous conversations about Music being drowned out by our Infernal Noise.

Which is not to say that he disagrees with them.  Oh, He finds it all amusing: the sideshow of those who speak of the issue in religious terms, on both sides, are doing a wonderful job of distracting everyone from the real issue at hand.  You must tell me, Wormwood–was it you that sought to clothe the Enemy’s resistance in almost purely religious garb?  Well, let me tell you, it has done a magnificent job–it’s a true stroke of genius!  It’s the distraction to end all distractions: by speaking of it only in our Enemy’s terms, as though He cares about it, allows those who have been influenced by our tempters to dismiss anything they say as that great and terrible faux pas, religious.  It took our Research Department a very long time (and at very great cost) to bring about the atmosphere of general distrust of anything that smacked of religion; but when it came about, it allowed for those hapless humans to dismiss almost anything from our Enemy’s camp because it was cheeky to speak about it at all.  And Hell have mercy (as if–but that’s for another letter) if someone appealed to metaphysics in order to argue something that applied to how humans behave and regard one another!  And thus the stage was set: even if a human disavowed the Enemy, if he took a stand on a matter of abortion he was regarded as being corrupted by ‘religion’ and dismissed as such.  So when it’s all said and done, even the humans under the Enemy’s control who spoke of abortion only in ‘religious’ terms were unable to hit the mark and provided us a useful distraction.

But the Enemy does seem to care about this sort of thing; His infuriating peons chose to sing a song about Forgiveness.  Forgiveness!  What gall!  What cheek!  Even after all the pains we went through to make the term ‘religious’ radioactive to them, they impose their insufferable mercy on those that we have convinced deserve no forgiveness and need no forgiveness.  We make it embarrassing and they went and did it anyway.  They might well even bring the whole charade down on accident.  And they’d better not, since we invested so much in making them seem cruel and heartless towards those who are tempted into abortion.  So it falls to you to rectify this situation.  Oh, to be sure, much of it is still beside the point and a useful distraction, and much of it is simply a bad argument, but it is all on terribly thin ice.  As are you.

Oh, the humans and their pathetic ‘rights.’  You’ve done well by getting them to think about rights selfishly, in terms of some sort of conflict, and in terms of unessential characteristics.  A death sentence simply for being the wrong gender–unthinkable after birth, but permissible before!  An unwanted child, deprived of life, simply because of how someone else regarded him!  Or because that human would deprive someone else of partaking in all manner of worldly pleasures that we’ve inculcated in them over the long years.  Know the gravity, then, of the thought that the mere presence of another human being that requires their attention may divert them from those worthwhile temptations and bring them into closer union with the Enemy.  Why He bothers to unite with them is still beyond us, but He has a knack for using things they perceive as ‘burdens’ to reveal Himself to them when our Noise is withheld.  We must work more on that.  Our Research Department is busy trying new ways to warp the thinking of some of those among them who call themselves “ethicists,” who are simply the most twisted sons of Hell you ever did see.  Can you imagine the scandal if anyone figured out their statements relied on metaphysics just as much as those who disagree with them?  Can you imagine the lack of chaos if they ever figured out the nature of rights?  Hence all the distractions.  Of course, they’ll have no rights at all Down Here, even if they wound up down here just insisting upon ‘their rights.’  But they’ll have no rights at all with the Enemy either; we’ll still tell them that much, but if they ever figure out how or why, the jig will be up.  Their concept of rights, as noble as they think of it, is still a very useful distraction when corrupted and debased.

But I digress.  Keep all the distractions going; even if they will not succeed this time, it is beside the point.  Our point is the myriad distraction.  Too few of them are fighting the real battles to make that much of a difference.  But if they start making much more of a difference, you will pay the price.  I hear the tempters at Comcast have a few openings, and no one wants to go there, do they?  I thought not.  Get to work.

 

Ever yours,

Screwtape