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God's gonna outlaw abortion whether you legislators walk out or not.
March 6, 2002 3:46 AM   Subscribe

God's gonna outlaw abortion whether you legislators walk out or not.
posted by crasspastor (47 comments total)

 
Sigh. I wonder about religion sometimes.

I've been having this ongoing discussion in my mind for a few years now about the relationship of religion and governments. Personally, I've long felt that religion started out as a system of beliefs that governed how people interacted with one another and to also help explain the mysteries of the world around them. It gave people a set of rules to live by, something to help them co-exist with one another, rising above the base insticts of our ancestors. So, then it feels to me that government has evolved as a subset of religion - a subset that takes out the mysteries of the world element and concentrates on just the inter-relationships of people. That makes some sense to me, since science has also evolved as a subset of explanation and spirituality for spirituality's sake has evolved.

The rising question to myself, however, is that if I have no problem with science being involved in government, then why do I feel so strongly that religion has no place in government? Is it that because religion is much too broad and I'm only comfortable with my perceived modern subsets interacting with each other? I think the answer is generally yes, because a sense of spirituality doesn't bother me - a generic moment of personal introspection and reflection in a public setting is fine. It's a personal expression interpreted different ways. However, seed that with a religious overtone and it gets pretty dodgy for me. Someone else is inflicting their moral values on me without regard for mine.

Is my idea of the evolution of religion into science/government/spirituality a correct one? Can those three subsets interact with one another in a more abstract way, allowing people to accept different points of view in each one?
posted by warhol at 4:58 AM on March 6, 2002


For many (most?) people, religion represents their deepest, most basic beliefs. That's why it's wrong for the government to use its coercive power to try to impose changes on people's religious beliefs.

But on the other hand, it seems unfair and probably futile to expect people to set aside their deepest, most basic beliefs when they vote or otherwise participate in the political process.

I don't blame the pastor here, I blame the legislature. If you don't want to hear a genuine conservative Assembly of God Christian prayer, then don't invite a conservative Assembly of God minister to pray! Asking a person to censor the way they talk to their god is a lot worse than having to listen to someone pray in a way you don't like.
posted by straight at 5:24 AM on March 6, 2002


dear god,

get me out of the US now!

your pal,
kevin costner
posted by mcsweetie at 5:26 AM on March 6, 2002


Someone else is inflicting their moral values on me without regard for mine.

I kind of feel that this has become the purpose of most religions in the world. I grew up believing, not following, that hinduism was a very benevolent religion, and things to the effect of how hinduism allowed buddhism to grow and actively helped spread a contrary religion to the world. etc etc.

And look at the situation now, hinduism is heading down a slippery slope of fundamentalism, which as I remember being taught and just getting from growing up in, was/is a very tolerant religion.

As for me, I am half sikh and half hindu, the sikh side has a lot of muslim in it, my son is a mix of me and an american irish mom, maybe his generation and the next will benefit from our increasing (I hope) habits of marrying out of the community.(whatever that may be to you)

Though I am also aware of the social pressure of not doing that precise thing.
posted by bittennails at 5:33 AM on March 6, 2002


God made man, man fumbled around for a while with square wheels, God gave man religion, man wondered what it was all about, started asking questions. Mans mind started questioning and experimenting, leading to the circular wheel, and science. Man adopted the moral strictures set down by God as a way of treating one another. Some men said they knew more about religion than others. Others agreed. These men became rulers, formalised the morals of religion in law, invented beureuacrats (whoops, spelt rong). Over time, more laws were added, these slowly pushed out the original ones as they made more 'sense', the beureuacrats took over - laws were based on 'need', rather than religion.

'Church' and state separated: religion was no longer how you lived your life, but rather an addendum to it. Religion slowly merges into culture, becomes something you do out of habit (cos your mom said you should), rather than something you truly believe in. Some people find out about their religion/others and believe, most are happy to live by the rules and laws set down by their government and keep religion to one side for use when they feel down/when they want a feeling of community.

Thus, when religion comes into politics, there is an aversion from some, as most view these two things as belonging to separate spheres of life - the first mundane, the higher governing more lofty (and wishy-washy?) things - its there to comfort, not challenge.

Theres a recurring theme in Islam these days of a the 'Khalifah' - the worldwide state of the muslim'Ummah' (the worldwide community of muslims - suppose its like the idea of 'Israel', not the country, but the idea (?)) - with angry young muslims protesting we should set this up and implement Shariah (Qu'ranic) law as soon as we can. The main problem is that its clearly stated that Shariah law can only really work when the people who follow it have the basic set of values and morals of a good muslim, and actually live religion as opposed to compartmentalising it (muslim morals/values are pretty much the same as most other monotheistic religions). For this reason, religion and politics don't mix too well in the muslim world at the mo..

My 2 cents on warhols point, hope it made sense (post-lunch lassitude)..
posted by Mossy at 5:33 AM on March 6, 2002


I don't see how the guy saying the prayer can expect people to take him seriously when he pisses off a lot of people when he is only there to say a prayer. Sorta sets the cause back a few steps I think...
posted by Keen at 5:38 AM on March 6, 2002


I don't see how the guy saying the prayer can expect people to take him seriously when he pisses off a lot of people when he is only there to say a prayer. Sorta sets the cause back a few steps I think...

There's the basic misunderstanding. You (and they) think he's talking to them. He thinks he's talking to God. He's not going to change the way he talks to God just because they're listening.
posted by straight at 5:47 AM on March 6, 2002


He thinks he's talking to God.

I can imagine trying that on a sidewalk. Oh wait they already do.
posted by bittennails at 5:52 AM on March 6, 2002


Apparently 95% of all Americans believe in God according to Pres Bush.. An interesting piece on marrying Church and State from yesterday's Guardian, have a quick read..
posted by Mossy at 6:22 AM on March 6, 2002


religion started out as a system of beliefs that governed how people interacted with one another

Actually, in early native american societies religious mysticism arose as a government created institution for the purpose of providing a 'higher authority' to legitimize the ruling regime. This is found to have happened independently and in different ways in different societies. The various rites and celebrations provided an outlet for the common person's frustrations and fears (that might lead to revolt) and simultaneously elevated both the religious authority and the regime supported by that authority. Obviously, this ruse only worked because the people truly believed in the absolute and infallible authority of the religion. Thus we have the birth of fundamentalism....
posted by plaino at 6:33 AM on March 6, 2002


Actually, in early native american societies religious mysticism arose as a government created institution for the purpose of providing a 'higher authority' to legitimize the ruling regime.

Early native American governments? Is this really what you mean? We know next to nothing about native American societies before the 18th century, but most of them didn't have anything resembling a government or "ruling regime."

If you're invoking some kind of functionalist theory of religion, I'd like to know which one. This is the kind of thing that anthropologists have suggested now and then, but it's never been short of problematic. It may be the kind of thing that's taught as TRVTH in popular writing (or even in Anthro 101, for all I know), but I have never encountered one specific case where I believe it.

If you don't really mean "native American" (i.e., American Indian) but something else, like colonial America, I'd like to hear some sources, because I don't believe that either. What are you talking about? Jonathan Edwards? William Penn? Cotton Mather?

(minor peeve: I wish people would stop saying "actually", as if there was one true answer to something, unless there really is one true answer and they're in a position to know it.)
posted by rodii at 6:45 AM on March 6, 2002


I agree with straight on this one. The legislature sets itself up for uncomfortable situations when it invites religious people to do a religious act. Perhaps they're used to run-of-the-mill religious who don't want to rock the boat in order to keep their political access or people who don't disagree with the secular values represented in the law. As a religious person, I find these watered-down sentiments offensive, partially because it seems to me that the center of the prayer isn't God, but the legislators who are showing how pious they are by starting the day off with a prayer.

The legislature shouldn't be having public prayer in their sessions at all. If the legislators want to pray for upcoming sessions, they should drag their lazy asses to their churches. They can get their benedictions privately.
posted by meep at 7:24 AM on March 6, 2002


Good point meep:

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:5-6)
posted by internal at 7:53 AM on March 6, 2002


rodii-

I was referring to the discussion in Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (Which I already know is both pop-history and controversial so no need to point that out). Unfortuneately, I don't have time to earn a Ph.D. on every subject I wish to comment about and this is hardly the forum for rigorously referenced, peer-reviewed discussion anyway. I made a general comment based on some general reading I had done. It is easy to make pot shots at any comment by demanding ever more obscure references to primary resources without actually putting any of your own thoughts up for criticism.
posted by plaino at 8:00 AM on March 6, 2002


i personally think (am i'm aware that this is not a particularly original idea) that our civic commitment to liberal democracy is, in many ways, a "religious" ideal. I mean, most of us accept on faith that democracy is better than monarchy, oligarchy, etc, despite its many obvious deficiencies. Also, most of us accept that a "good" government must respect value and protect certain individual rights (free speech, ownership of property, free press, etc), despite the possibility of alternate systems of government which would allow us to live fulfilling lives without many of these rights.

In fact, if you look at the origins of both democracy and liberalism in philosophical thought, it mostly comes out of ideals of natural law--that these rights are ordained by God, Nature, whatever. But, as a believer in God, I happen to think that much of this natural law stuff about liberalism and democracy is bunk. It's just the system we decided to enact because of our particular historical circumstances and culture.

I guess my point is that I think the reason some people get so upset about mixing "church and state" is that the state itself is a church! To the apostles of liberal democracy, the church (with its emphasis on substantive morality as opposed to our civic religion's procedural morality) is a threat to thier belief system. To me, the vocal defenders of the church/state seperation seem no different than the guy in the article. Both are trying to protect their belief systems from attacks by alternate, incompatable belief systems.
posted by boltman at 8:00 AM on March 6, 2002


Plaino, I'm not taking pot-shots. It's not clear what you mean by "early native american societies." I think I disagree with you--no disrespect there--but it's hard to be sure. (I don't recall asking for a Ph.D. or any primary sources, by the way--"Guns, Germs and Steel" gives me a great idea of where you're coming from, thanks--so who's taking pot shots now?) And if this is just something you heard but aren't an authority on--and again, I think that's just fine--why phrase it as if it's "actually" a Truth?

No flames intended--sorry if I came off that way.
posted by rodii at 8:20 AM on March 6, 2002


FWIW, Richard North Patterson's "To Serve and Protect" is an excellent novel that, in the telling of its story, deals with abortion issues. Although the novel is, ultimately, "pro," it does make some extremely persuasive "anti" arguments.

Certainly throughout the novel I was torn both ways. In the end, I can only conclude that for myself, abortion would not likely be an option; and that I can not decide for others.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:32 AM on March 6, 2002


rodii: Early native American governments? Is this really what you mean? We know next to nothing about native American societies before the 18th century, but most of them didn't have anything resembling a government or "ruling regime."

This sounds like something a John Wayne character might have said. Do you think the various nations (Sioux, Iroquois, etc.) emerged spontaneously in the 18th century, with heirarchies, chiefs and shamans already in place? You think they were just wandering around in anarchy? We may not know much, but we do know about a range of complex societies that were already complex when they were "discovered." Sources can be provided, but come on man, do you really not believe this is the case?
posted by bingo at 8:57 AM on March 6, 2002


As far as the chaplain thing goes. The legislature shouldn't have hired a chaplain with an agenda. This can't be a new issue...no doubt there have been chaplains throughout American history who felt like using their prayer time to bring the attention of the political body they were addressing to some issue they had strong religious feelings about. Surely (though I can't verify this) there is usually in implicit, if not explicit agreement that the chaplain is there to say a prayer that will give the assembly as a whole a sort of spiritually empowered feeling, and in theory help them to make the decisions that it is their place, not the chaplain's, to make.

When I was in high school, I was in this thing called Youth In Government, where students from all over Kansas went to the state capitol for a weekend and played legislators and so on in the actual chambers. Being from one of the few liberal areas in the entire state, my friends and I engineered things so that one of us became the chaplain. He was an atheist, and you should have seen the faces of all those farmboys from around the state when he opened the assembly by quoting Henry David Thoreau, and then saying "in Thoreau's name we pray" without once mentioning God.
posted by bingo at 9:07 AM on March 6, 2002


The legislature shouldn't have hired a chaplain with an agenda.

They shouldn't have hired one at all for any reason. It is fine if a Chaplain appears before a legislative body to offer an argument in support of a political position as a representative of a body (a church I presume) independent from the legislature. It is not OK for a legislature to pay a Chaplain to perform a religious service on their behalf, because, he is then acting as a representative of the legislature, even if the service is performed only for the legislature.
posted by plaino at 9:40 AM on March 6, 2002


Why was a chaplain invited to pray in the legislature to begin with?

I'd rather see someone show up and make a political statement than be allowed (invited?) to pray in a government institution.
posted by jeblis at 9:54 AM on March 6, 2002


rodii: All you did was ask plaino to be specific and back up his claims. There wasn't a hint of flame there. In my opinion, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for.

When people go around making broad pronouncements and positioning themselves as having superior knowledge about an obscure subject, they should expect to be called on it when they're wrong. If you don't like that, Plaino, do what I do when I'm unsure of what I'm talking about: hedge your bets by qualifying your statements. "In my understanding", "correct me if I'm wrong", etc. If you chose not to qualify your statements, don't go getting defensive when somebody calls your bluff.
posted by gd779 at 10:00 AM on March 6, 2002


This sounds like something a John Wayne character might have said.

Oh, piffle. (There, the Duke wouldn't have said that, would he?) That's the stupidest response I've read here all day.

Do you think the various nations (Sioux, Iroquois, etc.) emerged spontaneously in the 18th century, with heirarchies, chiefs and shamans already in place? You think they were just wandering around in anarchy?

Whatever gave you the impression I think that that happened in the 18th century? What I said was first, that we know little about what things were like before the 18th century, and therefore we can't make any informed statements about whether religion emerged to serve the "government" or vice versa. There simply are no records. Secondly, complex societies can have ways of being orgaized without having a government or "ruling regime." Clan or moiety councils, lineages of shamanic initiation, kivas, kinship structures, traditional ways of dispensing justice, wars. I know a fair bit about native societies of the Great Basin and California, yes, and with the partial exception of Pueblo groups, none of them had anything resembling a "tribal government" that oversaw the affairs of the "tribe" the way modern states function--they were not "regimes".

Remember the original claim? in early native american societies religious mysticism arose as a government created institution for the purpose of providing a 'higher authority' to legitimize the ruling regime. I'm not saying that Indian cultures weren't sophisticated or complex in their social organization--in the historical period some were, some weren't--but that there were, with a few exceptions, no "regimes" needing to be "legitimized" or capable of creating "institutions". All of these ideas arise out of European concepts of the state and don't really apply to the native cultures of the Americas.

Next time, try reading a little more charitably instead of just scoring substance-free debating points against whatever evil opponent/action figure you imagine me to be.
posted by rodii at 10:29 AM on March 6, 2002


will the rodii action figure be available in all good toyshops soon?
will there be accessories?
will there be a debating board game spin-off?
the people want to know!

on topic, i must agree with plaino.
posted by asok at 10:51 AM on March 6, 2002


OK, time for me to crawl under the blankets for a while.
posted by rodii at 11:10 AM on March 6, 2002


Actually, Native American tribes did just emerge in the 18th century, with everything in place. You see, it was spontanious generation.

Someone must have left some meat out.
posted by fuq at 2:46 PM on March 6, 2002


(Warning: my post may be interpreted as trollish!)

If people want God, they have to take everything that comes along with Him:

- His Law
- His Love
- His Justice
- His Mercy

If you don't want His Law and Justice and accountability, well then create an environment where don't have to hear (*shudder* who can stand the horror!) any reference to universal ethics--ethics that define a moral obligation from all people, even you.
posted by aaronshaf at 2:46 PM on March 6, 2002


Troll! TROLL! No wait...some kind of ogre! OGR...no, not tall enough...URUK-HAI!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:02 PM on March 6, 2002


Hmm, an Uruk-Hai is shorter than a troll, true - maybe a large mountain goblin would be more appropriate? Heh..

aaronshaf, that strikes me as what people would need to accept to follow your own God, whoever/whatever it is (why is God always a he in English? Hmm, suppose 'it' doesn't sound too good..). Aside from that, I have no idea what the point you just made was. Argh, bed time..
posted by Mossy at 4:19 PM on March 6, 2002


I mean, most of us accept on faith that democracy is better than monarchy, oligarchy, etc, despite its many obvious deficiencies.

It's not really faith - it's much more practical than that. We have tried out various systems throughout history; most peope feel this one seems to work alright; those who don't work to change it.. etc etc. Yeah, many people never look too carefully at the system and it's proficiencies & deficiencies, but that's entirely different from taking something on faith. They simply ignore the question, the way some people never truly consider whether they believe in god or not. But those who honestly believe democracy is the best of the available options usually arrive at that conclusion through study and consideration of social structures and historical situations.

People who believe in god do so because of something they feel, or something which works for them, but they cannot show that their truth is true for all - hence the notion of "faith" to start with: just believe, start out with the belief before the questions, begin with the answer Yes and you'll find that the answer ends up being yes... That's what faith is.

If people want God, they have to take everything that comes along with Him

according to whose version of god? Who defines what comes along with him? Why is your version the right one? ...& if people don't want god, do they get to not be accountable?

If you don't want His Law and Justice and accountability, well then create an environment where don't have to hear ... any reference to universal ethics

so, if I don't believe in him, he goes away?
posted by mdn at 5:05 PM on March 6, 2002


As far as the chaplain thing goes. The legislature shouldn't have hired a chaplain with an agenda.

Commenting without reading the link again...

There was no chaplain hired. The gentleman in question is the pastor of an Assembly of God church in Greeley, and was invited to offer the opening prayer by one of the legislators. This is common practice in legislatures around the country, the members invite clergy from their home districts and they open the daily legislative session.

Given that, I defy you to find a clergy member of any faith or sect who has no agenda. The very act of becoming a religious leader weds someone to the agenda of that faith. If it doesn't they are very much in the wrong line of work.
posted by Dreama at 5:22 PM on March 6, 2002


if i was king of the world, a legislative session would open up with little bits of food on toothpicks, something to drink and maybe a comedian. That would solve problems like this.

Seems like a big game. I'm sure people walk out on prayers all the time to show the voters they are working hard.
posted by th3ph17 at 6:09 PM on March 6, 2002


rodii,

The most obvious example of a Native American government, as well as a record of NA civilization before the 18th century, is the constitution for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy of Iriquois Nations.
Ben Franklin used it as a model in some of his arguments about how American government should be put together to begin with. Some scholars date it as early as 1390. One of many possible links is here.
posted by bingo at 6:24 PM on March 6, 2002


If you don't want His Law and Justice and accountability, well then create an environment where don't have to hear (*shudder* who can stand the horror!) any reference to universal ethics--ethics that define a moral obligation from all people, even you.

How about just creating an environment where we don't have to hear a reference to universal ethics in every thread you post to?
posted by bingo at 6:26 PM on March 6, 2002


Bingo--yes, I agree, that's the obvious example; I thought of it too. But please note I said "most." You won't find anything similar among the Luiseño or Hualapai or Slave or Mandan or Tonkawa (etc.), as far as I know. You might among the Hopi or or Zuni or Lushootseed (etc.). I was merely pointing out an overly strong claim about the origins of religion in the Americas. I was certainly not promoting some sort of idiot idea about the political inferiority of Indians.
posted by rodii at 6:51 PM on March 6, 2002


It's not really faith - it's much more practical than that

i'm not so sure it's that practical. Plato's philosopher-king is practical. democracy is by its very nature impractical. but that's not even the best example. take something like freedom of speech. i would argue that this country's commitment to freedom of speech far exceeds any pratical value we derive from it. Yeah, yeah, there's the "marketplace of ideas" and all that, but there are lots of reasonable counterarguments to that idea. Furthermore, most (all?) other developed countries don't have an explicit right to free speech and yet they seem to be avoiding despotism and tyranny. So, what explains our rather extreme adherance to the right to (near) total freedom of speech? I'd argue it's exactly the same impulse that leads a religous person to believe in their God.

The problem with our civic religion is that there's ultimately no substance to it. Rather than encouraging virtue and community, we just encourage extreme individualism and isolation. I find it kind of depressing really.

I would like to see the our society really wrestle with questions of substantive morality in the political context without always falling back on liberalism as a cop out. why can't we just decide whether or not we as a society believe abortion is morally acceptable and then make it legal or illegal through the legislative process? why can't we debate capital punishment as substantively just or unjust rather than falling back on procedural arguments about error rates and bias? In having national debates over these issues on their own merits, we might even move closer to moral consensus on some of this stuff. As it is, we allow most people to cop out of the moral debate by saying "i think it should be legal although i'm not sure whether it's morally right."
posted by boltman at 11:36 PM on March 6, 2002


Dreama said: Commenting without reading the link again... There was no chaplain hired.

From the article: It is a standard request that is made of all the ministers, she said. They are also asked to keep their remarks to two or three minutes and are paid $25. [emphasis mine]

Making an appearance in exchange for dollars constitutes "hired" in my book, although I could imagine someone dismissing it as a token fee more as a matter of a courtesy than compensation. However, I'd say bingo used the word "hired" legitimately.

So that I'm not merely taking potshots from the sidelines, I'll add my two cents: Regardless of how common the practice is, I find religious services -- be they of my own beliefs or that of others -- held as part of the proceedings of a governmental body to be inappropriate. I pay these folks dearly to be actually working while on duty, and for the construction and upkeep of a house of government, not worship.

I'd be deeply concerned if my fire department were too busy holding services to assist me in an emergency, and I'd be nearly as bothered to find my legislature too engaged in worship to legislate. (Admittedly, that's a bit of exaggerated rhetoric.)

Legislators are and should be free to believe what they will, worship as they please, and even -- though I wish they would refrain -- consult their pastor before making governmental decision, just so long as they don't do it on company time.
posted by majick at 12:52 AM on March 7, 2002


boltman asked: why can't we just decide whether or not we as a society believe abortion is morally acceptable and then make it legal or illegal through the legislative process?

This is merely my opinion and hardly a statement of fact, but I would like to think that the reason this doesn't happen (or rather, happens only in limited domains) is because the government does not and should not regulate morality, only behavior. This suits me nicely, as I prefer the "yeah, yeah... marketplace of ideas" over empowering the government or anyone else to decide what I officially believe. Perhaps it's depressing individualism, but I'll take that and side order of substantive debate between individuals over a moral monoculture any day.

boltman again (I'm not picking on you; your comments were thought-provoking): As it is, we allow most people to cop out of the moral debate by saying "i think [something] should be legal although i'm not sure whether it's morally right."

I'll agree with you, with some hesitation and reservation, that this is copping out of a moral debate but it is definitely not copping out of a legislative one. Given my expressed opinion that the two might overlap but are not one and the same, that should come as no surprise. The opinion "I think it should be legal" is not mutually exclusive with "I'm not sure it's right." I don't want (for this example, prohibitional) laws passed purely on the basis of my own morality, I want them passed on the basis of demonstrable potential harm to an individual or society as a whole. Unfortunately that leaves a lot of fuzzy areas between the overlaps and gaps among your, my, and the next guy's morals. On the other hand, the edges are interesting, and difference among individuals leaves room for lots of interesting discussion, exchange, and compromise.

This may all be "liberalism as a cop-out" -- I'm a little unclear on the intended meaning of the phrase -- but I believe our freedoms and differences are not only sacred but the very basis of what it would take to really wrestle with, though hardly resolve permanently, questions of substantive morality in any context whatsoever.
posted by majick at 1:27 AM on March 7, 2002


Because my reaction to this comment: The problem with our civic religion is that there's ultimately no substance to it.

...is one considerably less reasoned and more potentially flammable than my larger, blander comments above, I wanted to address it separately.

I think that the problem with our civic religion is that it exists.

I say this purely because of my very own personal interpretation of the First Amendment's intent, reading "Congress shall make no law [as a result of officially or unofficially] respecting an establishment of religion..."

The implicit monotheist and quasi-Christian assumptions -- in the existing body of law and ongoing public debate -- about what societal morality is and should be trouble me as being narrow, needlessly exclusive, and ultimately, unamerican.
posted by majick at 1:49 AM on March 7, 2002


As far as the chaplains being hired goes. I actually agree with those who say that there shouldn't be a chaplain involved to begin with. However, be that as it may, there is often a chaplain connected to American legislative bodies, and the reason why there aren't articles like this one all the time, is because agenda or no agenda, they usually show up, say a more or less inoffensive general prayer ("may God guide this body's decisions," etc.), and then shut up. Yes, the use of a chaplain to begin with is inappropriate, but there is a longstanding tradition of chaplains who understand that there are a lot of people who feel this way, and they say innocuous prayers. The religious legislators feel like something significant has been done, and the more secular ones aren't bothered enough to make an issue out of it. In this case, we're talking about a chaplain who deliberately exceeded this implicit (and perhaps explicit) arrangement, which is inappropriate in its own way.
posted by bingo at 7:30 AM on March 7, 2002


The problem is that as long as government keeps passing legislation, they are legislating morality in one way or another. laws effect behavior and, over time, the norm expressed by the law becomes an internalized norm in the community. income tax deductions for charitable contributions effect not only how much money people give to charity, but how they feel about giving to charity. If gov't penalized giving to charity, people would not only give less, but have different attitudes towards giving (not all people mind you, but enough to cause a shift in communal values). The death penality legitimizes the desire for vengenance as a proper social response to crime. laws mandating that certain subjects (e.g. creationism, sex ed) be taught or not taught in public schools have a huge effect on societal values--on morality. and of course the primary aim of the drug laws is to make drug use not only illegal but morally unacceptable (you may argue that the drug laws are totally out of control in this country and i would agree with you, but few people would go so far as to say that total legalization of, say, heroin is a such a great idea)

my argument is essentially that liberalism, by itself, does not provide a satisfactory answer to these questions, nor should we expect it to. More to the point, we shouldn't try to hide behind "neutral principles" when what we really want is government to accept our side over the other side.

Both conservatives and liberals use the mantra of liberalism and "neutral principles" when it suits them. Liberals who argue for affirmative action are asking the government to take a substantive moral stand on an issue in a way that deprives certain individuals (white males) of liberty. Conservatives usually don't try to argue that helping minorities is morally wrong. They use liberal principles to argue that it is "reverse discrimination" to do so. Well, so what? Why can't the substantive moral concerns of helping a historically underprivileged group supercede the liberal principle of absolute nondiscrimination? Similarly, liberals answer conservative charges that abortion is murder by invoking the liberal principle that women should have the right to choose. Think about that for a minute. Women should have the right to choose murder?!? I'm not saying (nor do i believe) that abortion is murder, but its a reasonable enough a position to merit at least a serious moral response. Liberalism doesn't really help there either.

So why do we cling so tightly to a philosophy that has such limited usefulness and that most of us don't really believe in anyway when it comes to an issue, like affirmative action or abortion, that we have really strong views about?
posted by boltman at 7:57 AM on March 7, 2002


i'm not so sure it's that practical. Plato's philosopher-king is practical. democracy is by its very nature impractical.

Depends what you mean by practical I guess. All I meant was that opinions regarding political structures are based on history, trial and error, as opposed to supernatural hopes regarding death.

Furthermore, most (all?) other developed countries don't have an explicit right to free speech and yet they seem to be avoiding despotism and tyranny. So, what explains our rather extreme adherance to the right to (near) total freedom of speech? I'd argue it's exactly the same impulse that leads a religous person to believe in their God.

In what way has our adherence to free speech been "extreme"? I think you're mistaken that our laws have led us to be more individual - I think those who came to found america were the ones who were more individual to start with, and made laws that reflected that. European countries are much smaller and more homogenous than America is, and many rights don't have to be explicitly guaranteed to be respected. The US, by contrast, is vast and full of people from all over the world who tend to be ambitious and competitive (they're the ones who left the comforts or familiar hardships of their native lands to begin anew).

why can't we just decide whether or not we as a society believe abortion is morally acceptable and then make it legal or illegal through the legislative process?

Why can't we as a society simply agree? Because we don.t We disagree. We all have strong and reasonable opinions on certain topics, like abortion. This is like the classic "why can't we all just get along?" - it's a complicated issue and it's naive to imagine there's one answer to it that everyone will agree is the answer, as soon as it's uncovered... (As a society, we've decided that abortion is morally acceptable, by the way. That's what making something legal means. As individuals, we may disagree, and fight to change the societal decision, but one has been made).

In having national debates over these issues on their own merits, we might even move closer to moral consensus on some of this stuff. As it is, we allow most people to cop out of the moral debate by saying "i think it should be legal although i'm not sure whether it's morally right."

Are you somehow claiming there's not a national debate on these issues at present (and over the last several decades...)? It's not "copping out" of the moral debate. All laws are reflections of moral stances. In the abortion debate what has been confirmed is that the right to one's own body and the right to privacy have greater moral importance than the surivival of a fetus. This means we have determined - as a society - that abortion is morally permissable. Some individuals feel ambivalent about the issue, and claim that they would never have an abortion, but they respect the rights of others to do so. Some feel it's much more clear cut.

But even those who feel ambivalence aren't exactly "copping out". Many people would say something similar about, e.g., putting a pet to sleep. THe idea of killing a dog without a second thought, on the way home from the grocery because you suddenly changed your mind about having a dog, does not sit well with most people. But the idea that a person should be punished, should feel life-long guilt, or should be compelled to adopt any stray dog they see lest it be euthanized, whether or not they want it, also doesn't seem quite right. Most people have a more complex understanding of the moral factors involved. It isn't a question of doing A or B, right or wrong - it's a question of taking actions that lead to the best and most fulfilling lives for the self and the society.
posted by mdn at 1:20 PM on March 10, 2002


we have determined - as a society - that abortion is morally permissable

we didn't determine anything. the supreme court, in one of its strangest opinions ever, invented a new legal right that has no basis in the Constitution and used it completely preclude the democratic process in the area of abortion.

If there is any issue that should be fought out through the democratic process, it is abortion. If you have any doubt of this, just imagine how you would feel if the court had gone the other way and declared that a fetus is a person, ending all legal abortion throughout the entire country.
posted by boltman at 11:34 PM on April 4, 2002


The supreme court is part of the democratic process. I'm pro-choice, but if the opinion had gone the other way, I would not wish I was living under a philosopher-king.
posted by bingo at 2:36 AM on April 5, 2002


my point was not that we should have a philosopher king but that a liberal rights-based approach to abortion is totally inadequate because the debate turns on whether a fetus has rights in the first place. Since there's no language in the Constitution that addresses this question, how is a court supposed to decide that? It's a moral question that we have to decide as a society. Pretending that it is a legal question to be resolved through a rights-based analysis is, as I suggested above, a cop-out.
posted by boltman at 5:19 PM on April 7, 2002


we didn't determine anything. the supreme court, in one of its strangest opinions ever, invented a new legal right that has no basis in the Constitution and used it completely preclude the democratic process in the area of abortion.

What I said was, "we - as a society". The US is not a democracy - that is, it isn't mob rule. We have a constitution that lays ground rules and orders for how decisions are to be made. As a society we refer to the nine individuals we have determined to be most qualified to make the decision when faced with certain issues (and that determination is partly democratic in that the prez / congress who appoint justices are chosen by the people). So nothing has been "precluded". Every time the supreme court makes a decision, there will be some citizens who disagree, but their rights as citizens are not therefore being overlooked.

If there is any issue that should be fought out through the democratic process, it is abortion. If you have any doubt of this, just imagine how you would feel if the court had gone the other way and declared that a fetus is a person, ending all legal abortion throughout the entire country.

How would this be changed if the decision had come about a different way? Either you believe democratic rule is more fair or supreme court decisions are more fair - deciding that on which way will be more likely to get you the answer you want is obviously simply bias.

...that a liberal rights-based approach to abortion is totally inadequate because the debate turns on whether a fetus has rights in the first place.

AND on whether a woman has a right to control over her own body! In fact the issue is, at what point do the rights of an embryo to life overtake those of a woman to freedom & quality of life? And the supreme court has provided an answer to that.

It's a moral question that we have to decide as a society. Pretending that it is a legal question to be resolved through a rights-based analysis is, as I suggested above, a cop-out.

All legal questions are ultimately moral questions. "rights based" is simply modern liberal framing, but that's what the modern juridical system is founded on, and law is all about precedent, so they continue in that paradigm. But when they make decisions they are trying to work out what the ethical answer is.
posted by mdn at 6:27 PM on April 7, 2002


We have a constitution that lays ground rules and orders for how decisions are to be made.

please show me the section of the constitution that says that the woman has a right to privacy or that the fetus has a right to life once it becomes viable. please show me the "ground rules" that allow a court to make arbitrary decisions about public policy based on their personal moral beliefs.

In fact the issue is, at what point do the rights of an embryo to life overtake those of a woman to freedom & quality of life

Yes, that is the issue. But what gives the court the power to determine this? Before Roe v. Wade, each state, through its democratically elected legislature, had been allowed to make its own judgment on this question. If the court could credibly show that these laws were unconstitutional (i.e. prohibited by the text of the Constitution), then I would have no problem with the court striking them down. But that's not what the court did in Roe v. Wade. It invented new rights that are not found anywhere in the Constitution.

I'm certainly not arguing that the only rights we can have as Americans are those found in the Constitution. What I'm arguing is that new rights have to be recognized through the legislative process, NOT through judicial decree.

Perhaps a historical example is in order. Roe v. Wade isn't the first time that the court has invented rights that are not in the Cosntitution. Back in the 19th century in a decision called Lochner v. New York the court invented "the right to contract." This right to contract is not found anywhere in the Constitution, but the court held that it was implied in the natural order of a capitalist society (or something to that effect). Basically, the court used this "right to contract" to ban all state labor laws that attempted to protect workers from exploitation, including statutes banning child labor, limiting the work week, and establishing a minimum wage. The argument was that these laws limited worker's freedom to contract into exploitative employment contracts if they so desired.

The right to contract was eventually discarded once FDR was able to get more progressive justices on the court. But it probably set back labor law by decades. So my question is, presuming that you wouldn't agree with a court decision that found all state labor laws unconstitutional, how would you distinguish the right to abortion from the right to contract? Also, if the Court is justified in overturning laws solely on the basis of whether it finds them morally objectionable, what exactly is the limit on the judiciary's power?
posted by boltman at 12:55 PM on April 8, 2002


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