Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Who's Afraid?

Common Dreams, a web site for the "Progressive Community" is posting this essay by Ira Chernus, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, which claims that the "culture of life" is really a culture of fear. It is an interesting read to see how some view the prolife movement and it is filled with many notable assertions and arguments.

"Culture of LIFE?" we ask, with justified outrage. These same people who claim to be the guardians of life are the first to demand the death penalty for murderers, indiscriminate bombing for Afghanis, Iraqis, and anyone else they don't like, etc., etc. The hypocrisy is so blatant, it hardly seems worth spelling out the details.

He then doesn't spell it out. Chernus just asserts that prolifers are hypocrites and make no effort at an argument. He makes no effort to distinguish between deaths that may or may not be justified. Plus, I'm unaware of people who are in favor of "indiscriminate" bombings. This is clearly a strawman.

When they talk about a "culture of life," though, the right-wingers are trying to tell us that we're missing the point. The debate is not about life, it's about CULTURE. Everyone agrees that life is good. But the United States is split by a deep cultural divide about what makes a life good. Once we bring that divide into focus, the "culture of life" side begins to look a bit more logically consistent.

Culture may be one of the underlying reasons why some people are prolife and others are not but that's not the central reason for being prolife. Prolifers believe that it is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.

Everyone agrees that life is good? Chernus refutes his one sentence assertion with his next sentence. He doesn't believe that every life is good. He clearly says that life is good if there is something to make it good. So life in itself is not good but sometimes contains some property which makes it good. This property would then be what is good, not life.

On one side are the religious and social (no, they aren't all religious) conservatives who wave the "culture of life" banner. Basically, they are people who are afraid of uncertainty, ambiguity, and change in the realm of moral values. Their position is simple:

* moral values must be universal, timeless, unchanging truths
* we should receive them from religious traditions or authority figures
* once we get fixed truths, we should stick with them, no matter what

I would disagree with Chernus' diagnosis of those of us who aren't moral relativists. It should go something more like this (though I'm sure there are much better explanations around):

1. There exist in this world some things that are morally true regardless of what culture one resides in. For example, it is morally wrong to torture toddlers for fun.

2. Christians and other religions believe that moral truth can be obtained thru the Bible, Torah, etc. Moral truths can also be written on our hearts. For example, I don't need a rational reason to tell me that torturing toddlers for fun or raping women is morally wrong. Most individuals don't believe they have a monopoly on moral truth. They use various things as their guide and are in search of moral truth but hardly believe they have all the answers.

3. We should let these moral truths dictate how we act in certain situations.

Describing people who believe in moral truth primarily as afraid of "uncertainty" and "ambiguity" in moral realms is basically a way of taking a cheap shot on the belief. Chernus isn't making an argument that there are no moral truths. He's merely claiming that those that believe in moral truth are scared of any change when in actuality we believe that some changes to our country's moral code are wrong. He's attempting to say that people who believe in moral truths are irrationally scared of change regardless whether the change is good or bad when in fact we rationally dislike violations in moral truth and the irrational embracement of moral relativism.

Chernus then quotes Richard Land and offers a response. "Basically, it breaks down to this enormous fault line. On one side of this fault line, you have people who have a traditional view of morality: Some things are always right; some things are always wrong; and if you accept a society in which that's not true, then anything becomes possible."

That's just what thrilled those people sitting around in Volkswagen vans, smoking pot with peace symbols. Anything becomes possible -- even a world of peace and love.

For the right-wingers, though, the idea that "anything is possible" is terrifying.

For Chernus, "anything" seems only to mean good things like peace and love. Which kind of helps to understand why he thinks that "anything is possible" isn't terrifying. But he never mentions the horrible things that could happen if "anything is possible" or if some things (rape, torturing toddlers for fun) aren't always wrong. There is no fear that this mantra means torturing toddlers for fun is possible, legalizing rape is possible, genocide is possible, etc., etc. Why can't Chernus honestly take on the view that some things are always wrong? It's easy to think "anything is possible" is great when you're thinking about peace and love but there is another side of the coin that Chernus completely ignores.

But if we trust the free mind to find the truth, we have to consider all points of view -- even the "culture of life." Do they have a persuasive point to make? To figure it out for yourself, you might want to take a college philosophy course, or three or four. You'll have to start way back with Plato and Aristotle. Great minds have been wrestling with this one for thousands of years, and they haven't come to any consensus yet. Either side might be right.

Figure out if the prolife movement has a valid point by taking college philosophy courses? "You don't need to listen to what prolifers say and find out if their objective claims are correct or not. Just take my class at Colorado." Chernus is correct that either side might be right but doesn't this seem to indicate that moral truth exists. If one side is correct, isn't the other side wrong? Isn't one position true and the other position false? Yet Chernus' essay almost continously disparages those that believe in moral truth.

But that's just what the right-wingers can't admit. It's the "might be right" that scares them and drives them nuts. They need a "MUST be right" to feel safe, to feel that their own lives are under even minimal control.

We can't let them inscribe their fear-driven beliefs onto our laws. No compromise on that one. And we ought to encourage them to join us in a civil discussion about the issue. All the while, though, it won't hurt to remember that they are frightened and hurting.

I might be wrong about abortion. I'm not scared to admit that for a second. Someone just needs to show me that either 1. the unborn aren't living human beings or 2. that intentionally killing innocent human beings without justification should be legal.

The odd thing about Chernus is that he seems to be the one who is afraid that his view might not be right. This seems like a classic case of projection. He at first tries to attack the idea that there are certain moral truths. Why? Is he scared that his view could be wrong? He never directly addresses the claims of prolifers but relies on strawmen and claims of hypocrisy.

He then asserts that "we can't let them inscribe their fear-driven belief onto our laws." Doesn't that sound like someone who is afraid of something? He's afraid of the beliefs of prolifers being inscribed in law because his beliefs may be replaced. Chernus seems to claim moral neutrality (either belief may or may not be correct) but then assumes that the prolife belief is incorrect (we can't let them) with almost a complete lack of respect even though he says to encourage prolifers to join "us in a civil discussion."

This is clearly the intolerance of tolerance. "I'll listen to your hare-brained prolife ideas but I won't have you trying to make your beliefs law. Not for a second. My beliefs are law and that's that. I'll pay lip service to the idea that your beliefs could be right but I know with unwavering certainty that my beliefs are correct (even though I don't really believe in moral truth). We'll let ‘em blather on about fetuses and the right to life but there's no compromise if they try to use the government to recognize their beliefs."

I also find it odd to describe the prolife movement as being a movement of fear when leading organizations in the pro-choice movement almost continuously used fear as the primary means of rallying their supporters. "They're going to take away our reproductive rights," "they'll be coming for birth control once abortion is outlawed," "we can't go back to the days of back-alley abortion," and "our lives are in danger" is almost the constant tone of pro-choice rhetoric.

No comments:

Post a Comment