Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Richard Land and Moral Agency

[ This was cross-posted, with major changes, from Street Prophets]

A new conversation, or revival of an old one, in the blogosphere was started by the posting on YouTube of a video clip of a guy asking pro-life demonstrators whether women should spend time in jail if Roe v Wade (and Casey) were repealed and states began to make abortions illegal or severely restricted.

The discussion it raised showed up first (in sites I keep an eye on) at Stand to Reason with the articles listed here. My comments are in some of those comment questions. Then, PastorDan at Street Prophets weighed in on some quotes from "'How Much Time Should She Serve?'" published in Christianity Today. Anna Quindlen, writing in Newsweek, posits this choice:

There are only two logical choices: Hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place.
Carrie Gordon Earll, senior policy analyst for bioethics at Focus on the Family, responds:
Penalizing the woman is not even on the table.
to which Quindlen says: Such a legal stance is tantamont to
"ignoring or infantilizing women, turning them into 'victims' of their own free will," . . . "State statutes that propose punishing only a physician suggest the woman was merely some addled bystander who happened to find herself in the wrong stirrups at the wrong time."
Enter PastorDan with "The Teacher is the Law in This" .

[Cue musical interlude while you go and read these articles and come back]

So, does Land listen to what he says? Are women impaired when they choose abortion?

I have been fighting against the "well, ya, we should convict them of murder" side of this discussion in the last week at STR and SP; so I might as well deal with it here as well. However, other than some brief comments on a bad pro-choice meme at the beginning - my contention is that all humans are impaired moral agents: certainly not just women, and certainly not just when it comes to abortion. Quickly, for the vast majority of pro-life folk:

It has never been about punishing the woman

For the half of the country, and indeed half of the women, who consider themselves pro-life:
  • it is about the fetus being the kind of being whose life it is wrong to end.
  • it is about 1,200,000 of those innocent lives being ended a year in the US alone.
  • it is about the responsibility of government, and the community it represents, to protect the innocent lives in our midst - even from their own mothers and fathers.
  • it is about the failure of our communities to do that since Roe v Wade - indicated by 1,200,000 abortions a year. Our communities could have done this without the government - they didn't.
Woman are indeed moral agents capable of making their own decisions. That we are all (mostly all at least) moral agents capable of making our own decisions does not mean we make the right decisions. Why do we reason badly as moral agents? This is my favorite list (compare Aquinas's Summa Theologica, Prima Secundæ Partis, Question 94, Articles 4 and 6):
  1. insufficient experience: we do not know enough to reach sound conclusions;
  2. insufficient skill: we haven't learned the art of reasoning well;
  3. sloth: we are too lazy to reason;
  4. corrupt custom: it hasn't occurred to us to reason;
  5. passion: we are distracted by strong feeling from reasoning carefully;
  6. fear: we are afraid to reason because we might find out we are wrong;
  7. wishful thinking: we include in our reasoning what we are willing to notice;
  8. depraved ideology: we interpret known principles crookedly; and
  9. malice: we refuse to reason because we are determined to do what we want.
Actually, only (maybe) #8 and (certainly) #9 make us "bad people" or "a criminal". In the other seven, the community and the culture bears an equal, and sometimes greater, responsibility for training and equipping us to reason well; and establishing "known principles" clearly. So, now Land's points that PD butchered (IMHO):

It's not demeaning to assume that any person who is a mother who could make the decision to do this must be suffering from some form of psychological impairment because of the crisis of the pregnancy
Do any of us reason most clearly in a crisis? We are all psychologically impaired when we are confronted by a crisis situation (that is what extreme stress does i.e. finding out your are pregnant when you didnt want to be; and that it creates monstrous difficulties in your life). That is why the Bible says we need many wise counselors. Note: this deeper explanation of another form of impairment was posted in the other thread:
  • it is clearly evident in nature and within us that unborn children are created imago dei and should not be killed.
  • that is a general revelation from God - unrelated to Christianity and Christian teaching. Folks should "just know it"; and indeed the all over world abortion has been seen as wrong in every nearly every culture and in nearly every time until the modern period.
  • that gets twisted between our consciences and our moral acts because of errors (examples above) in our moral reasoning.
  • the world, our desires, and the devil encourage and support that twisted reasoning. And hence we act in an morally impaired way.
or because of societal demeaning of human life
We talk about the war in Iraq, hunger and homelessness due to poverty, violence against women, racism, etc; and you do not believe society demeans human life? Not only does the general culture in the US demean life in general; but parents, husbands, boyfriends, friends, and those who profit from abortion demean life particularly in case of abortion. Woman do often have many counselors, but are they wise: do they help overcome the list above or are they making it worse? And, actually from Earlle

The law is a teacher in this
Paul said a tutor, and of course it is. The law restrains us long enough to reason more clearly - partially because of the possible legal consequences of our acts force us to weigh difficult issues more deliberately. The law also points out to us the "known principles" it values, and those it doesn't.

Since, I am not into "legal vs illegal" when it comes to morality - but about "moral vs immoral" - I am obstensibly pro-choice. I am not for abortions being made illegal in a society with no clear and mutual understanding of its "known principles" on this issue. Land acknowledged this lack of common cultural understanding in the Christianity Today article:

abortion is not the same as murder, since there is no cultural understanding that a fetus is a person.
However, if Roe (well, really Casey) is overturned and the states begin to make abortion illegal - I have absolutely no problem with society protecting the innocent life of the unborn child; while choosing to explicitly exempt the mothers from punishment who still choose to abort their child. After all,

It has never been about punishing the woman

and we, as a culture, have not taught anyone to reason carefully when it comes to the lives of those we turn into "others". Which, BTW, is why the subject of this post is :

Why do we as moral agents reason poorly and make immoral decisions?

What responsibility does society have in training us to not do this, and restraining our actions when we do?
and not abortion (that is just the particular example)

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly