Minimizing embryo death through proper contraception
July 18, 2006 8:13 AM   Subscribe

The rhythm method kills more embryos than condoms. Some proponents of the pro-life movement argue against morning after pills, IUDs, and contraceptive pills on grounds of a concern for causing embryonic death. What has gone unnoticed, however, is that the pro-life line of argumentation can be extended to the rhythm method of contraception as well. Given certain plausible empirical assumptions, the rhythm method may well be responsible for a much higher number of embryonic deaths than some other contraceptive techniques.
posted by caddis (88 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's not really about the fetus. It's really about trying to prevent women from 'escaping the consequences' of their 'immoral behavior'. So this argument will change very few minds, because it's not really what we're arguing about.
posted by Malor at 8:16 AM on July 18, 2006


Using condoms doesn't kill any embryos.

Unless you wind the condom up like a rubber band and shoot the embryo in its soft, developing skull. That'd probably do it.
posted by Zozo at 8:17 AM on July 18, 2006 [2 favorites]


Condom Fight!
posted by illovich at 8:21 AM on July 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


I am amazed at your ability to discern the private thoughts and motivations of your opponents Malor. Maybe next time you can use these astounding mental talents to actually read the article. If you did, maybe you would see that the entire half baked theory hinges on the author's third assumption, which he admits "is not backed up by empirical evidence, but does have a certain plausibility." Which is, of course, a fantastic basis to make scientific claims.
posted by TungstenChef at 8:29 AM on July 18, 2006


Using condoms doesn't kill any embryos.

Unless they fail, and then you abort the resulting fetus. According to the article, even if everybody did this there would still be less embryo deaths than from the rhythm method.
posted by caddis at 8:30 AM on July 18, 2006


It's not about punishment, either. These are notions derived from a pretty horrific time in history.
Citizens of the Roman Empire at its height, in the second century A.D., were born into the world with an average life expectancy of less than twenty-five years. Death fell savagely on the young. Those who survived childhood remained at risk. Only four out of every hundred men, and fewer women, lived beyond the age of fifty. It was a population ‘grazed thin by death.’ In such a situation, only the privileged or the eccentric few could enjoy the freedom to do what they pleased with their sexual drives. Unexacting in so many ways in sexual matters, the ancient city expected its citizens to expend a requisite proportion of their energy begetting and rearing legitimate children to replace the
dead. Whether through conscious legislation, such as that of Emperor Augustus, which penalized bachelors and rewarded families for producing children, or simply through the unquestioned weight of habit, young men and women were discreetly mobilized to use their bodies for reproduction. The pressure on the young women was inexorable. For the population of the Roman Empire to remain even stationary, it appears that each woman would have had to have produced an average of five children. Young girls were recruited early for their task. The median age of Roman girls at marriage may have been as low as fourteen. In North Africa, nearly 95 percent of the women recorded on gravestones had been married, over half of those before the age of twenty-three.
That was the context in which Christian morality was developed, and though the original Jesus Movement was quite radical and revolutionary in espousing celibacy for precisely this reason, we shouldn't mistake Christianity as-we-know-it for having much at all to do with the original Jesus Movement from which it borrows little more than terminology. The basic outlook of the Christianity we know is the morality of the Roman Empire, the world's longest-lived military dictatorship and the ultimate model for most of the 20th century's fascist regimes. In the context of the Roman Empire, everyone needed to reproduce as much as possible just to keep the population in balance—life truly was nasty, brutish and short then.

So, there's no contradiction here. They don't want you to use birth control or protection, and they don't want you to have an abortion either, because the goal is to produce as many children as possible, because their morality was formed in the context of social obligations to a regime in which death was commonplace and fecundity the only way to keep pace with the terrible human cost of empire.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:30 AM on July 18, 2006 [21 favorites]


Oh, the quote above was from Peter Brown's 1988 The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity. Sorry 'bout that....
posted by jefgodesky at 8:31 AM on July 18, 2006


Zozo made me laugh.




That is all.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:33 AM on July 18, 2006


Using condoms doesn't kill any embryos. - Zozo

Unless they fail, and then you abort the resulting fetus. - caddis

That's not even the arguement the article is making. The author estimates that 50% of fertilized ova fail to implant or are otherwise miscarried before expected menses. So according to this logic for every unintended pregnancy due to condom failure, there's also one fertilized ova that miscarries or fails to implant. The article isn't about pregnancy termination at all.
posted by raedyn at 8:33 AM on July 18, 2006


Greater promotion of homosexuality and of heterosexual sodomy could save hundreds of thousands of little baby lives.
posted by biffa at 8:38 AM on July 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Direct quote from the article: "Even a policy of practising condom usage and having an abortion in case of failure would cause less embryonic deaths than the rhythm method."
posted by caddis at 8:38 AM on July 18, 2006


The third assumption is that there is a greater chance that a conception will lead to a viable embryo if it occurs in the centre interval of the fertile period than if it occurs on the tail ends of the fertile period. This assumption is not backed up by empirical evidence, but does have a certain plausibility.

Let's try and sound all sciencey, but instead of collecting data, lets just make assumptions! And when we know that our assumptions aren't supported by evidence, lets just keep on believing them!

You can argue for anything at all if you're allowed to make any kind of assumption that you want.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:44 AM on July 18, 2006


The author neglects one line of argument that would oppose his claims.

He does rightly assert that the distinction between passive and active baby-killing is immaterial, given that it's intentional. What he DOESN'T get into is the fact that, of all the current mainstream methods of birth control, only the rhythm method was around in Roman times when, as jefgodesky mentions, all these wonderful taboos were established. It's grandfathered in!

Actually, I wonder... is it explicitly grandfathered in? Does anyone know if there's reference to the rhythm method in the Bible?

I.e., does the Word of God tell his followers to kill embryos?
posted by gurple at 8:50 AM on July 18, 2006


"Greater promotion of homosexuality and of heterosexual sodomy could save hundreds of thousands of little baby lives."

I try to do my part, but my girlfriend's just not godly enough to let me do her exclusively in the ass.

Jefgodesky-- That was a great quote, although limiting the propensity for procreation to the Romans is a little unnecesssary, in that nearly every civilization in antiquity placed great emphasis on siring children. I mean, the Hebrews of the OT are hardly advocates of zero population growth. All of the "pro-life" dogma can be pretty easily tied into pre-modern and anti-modern social structures.
posted by klangklangston at 8:51 AM on July 18, 2006


I wonder whether the author is marking a difference between natural ova death and induced ova death.
posted by parmanparman at 8:54 AM on July 18, 2006


The Bible doesn't really talk about contraception at all, good or bad, but there was a lot more than just the rhythm method to talk about. There was a whole catalog of highly effective herbs and other techniques. Some were bogus old wives' tales, but some put our own contraceptives to shame. Bible doesn't talk about those. Most you'll get from the Bible is the story of Onan, and if you can turn the story of Onan into a tale about G-d hating masturbation, then I suppose the whole point of that story of Jesus being tempted by the Devil in the desert was that Jesus didn't like bread. It's that kind of myopic focus on irrelevant details that turns the sin of Sodom into sodomy, when the Bible clearly states that the sin of Sodom was violence, pride and lack of concern for the poor.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:56 AM on July 18, 2006 [4 favorites]


All I know is the bible is against practicing the rhythm method with your grandfather.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:56 AM on July 18, 2006


Klangklangston -- Sorry if it seemed Romano-centric. It was certainly true of Rome, and that's the historical context from which Christianity gets it, but you're absolutely right that pretty much all agrarian societies suffer from massive mortality and place an extreme stress on reproduction just to remain viable.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:58 AM on July 18, 2006


Yes, this is an ethics article, not the result of a scientific study. The rhythm method has been out of date for decades. I also don't think you can say plausibly that rhythm method users have just one pregnancy every ten years. Most people will say it's playing Russian roullette.
posted by parmanparman at 8:58 AM on July 18, 2006


I wonder whether the author is marking a difference between natural ova death and induced ova death.

The author gets pretty explicit about that, parmanparman. He asserts that the argument for a moral difference between the two is weak, since in either case the ovum death is intentional.
posted by gurple at 8:58 AM on July 18, 2006


How can ova death always be intentional? That asserts that a woman always has control over the ova, which is completely unscientific.

Sounds like he also wants women to wander around naked and barefoot.
posted by parmanparman at 9:00 AM on July 18, 2006


Sounds like he also wants women to wander around naked and barefoot. - parmanparman

I didn't get that at all.
posted by raedyn at 9:06 AM on July 18, 2006


Sounds like he also wants women to wander around naked and barefoot.

I'm against that. I think women should wander around naked and in high heels.
posted by illiad at 9:09 AM on July 18, 2006


How can ova death always be intentional? That asserts that a woman always has control over the ova, which is completely unscientific.

Huh? The rhythm method is entirely about asserting control over the ova. Saying to them, in effect, "you ain't gonna be able to implant right now, you little buggers, so I'm going to call you into existence! Bwahahahaha!". True, it's not particularly effective, but that's what the action of undertaking the rhythm method is all about.

Sounds like he also wants women to wander around naked and barefoot.

What made you think that?
posted by gurple at 9:13 AM on July 18, 2006


Jefgodesky, that was an excellent post. I marked it as a favorite, for what it's worth.

What I don't think it explains, however, is why Christians today are still so eager to push fecundity above all else, under the guise of compassion for embryos. We have endangered all future generations because of how much our population has grown, and how much we consume. To continue to stress fecundity as a moral imperative is ignorant of the realities of today, and reckless to the point of gross immorality. Think of the damage the Catholic Church and the Bush Administration has caused in Africa, with their absurd opposition to family planning and condom use in countries with not only the highest AIDS infection rates, but some of the highest fertility rates on top of already overstressed and overpopulated land and persistent famine.

The consequences of the Catholic and American obsession with purity and embryonic rights has directly lead to millions in aid dollars facilitating, rather than ameliorating the greatest humanitarian disaster of our time. While all eyes are focused on the Middle East, there are aid workers in Africa telling AIDS infected men that condoms are immoral and telling women with more children than they can hope to feed that God expects from them all the children they can bear.

While we debate the relative moral worth of an embryo, and wax philosophical about the origins and nature of the 'culture wars' in America, millions of Africans are dying of Aids, hunger, famine related disease and war directly related to a growing population and dwindling agricultural capacity. All while religious NGOs from the developed world spend aid money on making this crisis worse, so they can go home with a smug sense of satisfaction that they have done God's work.

George Bush and the Pope can both sleep at night, knowing that they have helped spread a "culture of life" in Africa, while facilitating the deaths of millions of actual children, not anthropomorphized blastocysts. What makes this tragedy farce is that many people who actively work to facilitate this almost unfathomable humanitarian crisis go to sleep every night not hoping that they are doing the right thing, but knowing this.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:20 AM on July 18, 2006 [13 favorites]


parmanparman - Do you mean the author wants women to walk around barefoot and pregnant? If so, I offer the last sentence of the article as evidence against this claim:
One could simply conceive of this whole argument as a reductio ad absurdum of the cornerstone of the argument of the pro-life movement, namely that deaths of early embryos are a matter of grave concern.
posted by raedyn at 9:23 AM on July 18, 2006


why [are] Christians today are still so eager to push fecundity above all else, under the guise of compassion for embryos. - [expletive deleted]

I think this is what the article is driving at, in a roundabout way. If you are concerned with embryo deaths even prior to implantation than the rhythm method must be ruled out as well because you're intentionally allowing ova to be fertalized when they're in a hostile envirnonment and least likely to implant.
posted by raedyn at 9:28 AM on July 18, 2006


Between jefgodesky and [expletive deleted] I'm running out of 'fantastic comment' flags. Well done.
posted by NationalKato at 9:28 AM on July 18, 2006


Dear Editor,

This article ignores up to date knowledge of the physiology of reproduction in its fascination with a mathematical and statistical model and his illogical assumptions.

The ovum lives for 12-24 hours, and it can only be fertilised within this short time(1). Outwith the fertile time, the sperm cannot reach the ovum as the cervical mucus dries and forms a plug(2). The sperm can be kept waiting in the cervical crypts for 4-5 days maximum prior to ovulation. If a sperm reaches the ovum and fertilises it, it has shown it has been healthy enough to win the race in the last sprint to the fallopian tubes!

There is no evidence that there is any variability of viability of the conceptus with time of fertilisation within this narrow window. The viability of the new human being is dependent on his or her completely new and unique genetic make up, which may be defective because of genetic disease carried by the gametes. It also depends on the health of its environment rather than the tiredness of the now dispensed propelling mechanism of the sperm.

Once conception has occurred the next phase kicks into action, progesterone rises up to about the 7th post-ovulatory day then Human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) produced by the implanting blastocyst, maintains the corpus luteum(3). Research has revealed variant forms of ovulation and defects in implantation(4), some due to hormonal problems, a short post-ovulatory phase or problems with the receptivity of the endometrium but this is not related to the times of intercourse.

If implantation is faulty in some way, the couple may suffer recurrent early miscarriages. These couples would therefore be wise to use the Natural Family Planning in order to achieve, rather than avoid a pregnancy, in order to increase the probability of fertilisation and subsequent success. Nature allows wastage, it can be cruel, but as yet, we have little power over it. NaProTechnology(5), which uses the science from Natural Family Planning, aims to prevent early miscarriage with hormone support and to maintain pregnancy to full term.

I was surprised at the out of date science used in this article. We can only develop our bio-ethics in accord with the best science available at any point in time, otherwise it would certainly, as in this case, be reductio ad absurdum.

Dr A M H Williams
GP and Medical Advisor Fertility Care
Glasgow

Bold is my own addition, to wit.
posted by parmanparman at 9:28 AM on July 18, 2006


that jefgodesky - he's one smart dude! great comment - faved.
posted by rks404 at 9:35 AM on July 18, 2006


His more nuanced position is available in the letters. I'm plowing through it right now, and findin it quite interesting.
posted by raedyn at 9:38 AM on July 18, 2006


Eh what, parmanparman? You mean an advocate of a Catholic-friendly rhythm-method-based contraception company (mind... boggles...) refutes the claims in this article? Astounding!

Pepsi Ovum?
posted by gurple at 9:42 AM on July 18, 2006


Just in the time I was reading this post, cells all over my body died. Why do we discriminate? We must save all the cells!
posted by mullingitover at 9:47 AM on July 18, 2006


All I know is the bible is against practicing the rhythm method with your grandfather.

Stay out of my pants, Bible!
posted by grubi at 9:48 AM on July 18, 2006


(I take it back. The letter is more nuanced. But it does provide additional thought experiments and data for consideration.)
posted by raedyn at 9:49 AM on July 18, 2006


"What I don't think it explains, however, is why Christians today are still so eager to push fecundity above all else,"

"Be fruitful and multiply" is kinda an edict, innit?
posted by klangklangston at 9:50 AM on July 18, 2006


I'm missing a not in the above sentence. Holy cow. I think I'll walk away for a bit and come back after lunch when I'm less likely to make such a mess of my comments.
posted by raedyn at 9:50 AM on July 18, 2006


Gurple. I am emphatically pro-choice, but I think that we are all really missing the point of this.

The problem with Bovens is that he terms NFP as family planning and it is not.

NFP and its precursor Rhythm Method were once touted as family planning. Now, they are part of a cornerstone of the Bush Administration's own abstinence education policies. Effectively - and by Conservatives - NFP has lost its medical significance as a planning method. In fact, it has been pointed on in Congress by Republicans during the passage of a bill that would have repealed the Global Gag Rule (and passed!) that the best use of NFP is by those couples who don't have sex, not the opposite.

Boven's makes this assumption:

- even in clinical trials, the rhythm method can fail due to the fact that a pregnancy results from sexual intercourse on the last days before and the first days after the prescribed abstinence period.

Bovens contradicts his own argument that a couple using NFP would only get pregnant once in 120 chances (one sexual incident per month, 12 x year, over a ten year period (Bovens claims one pregnancy in 10 years for each woman on NFP) by stating that NFP fails due to not keeping up with cyclical events in the life of the ova.

Bovens also states:

- Given our first assumption, a condom user (who makes no distinction between HF and non-HF periods) can count on one embryonic death for each unintended pregnancy. A rhythm method user, however, should count on two to three embryonic deaths for each unintended pregnancy. Assuming a success rate of 95% for condom usage, we can count on an expectation of .5 pregnancies in 10 years.

I challenge anyone to find a condom manufacter who will make this claim. It is simply untrue. It also does not assume human error in sexual process where condoms are the only contraceptive involved. Condoms are remarkably effective, but not to a 95 per cent threshold.

- that rhythm users may expect one pregnancy in ten woman years, it follows that we can expect two to three embryonic deaths in ten woman years.

I do believe Bovens when he assumes this. He is using the women year argument to say that if a couple using NFP as contraception has intercourse once a month, that she is likely to only get pregnant once in 120 chances.
posted by parmanparman at 10:01 AM on July 18, 2006


correction:

I do not believe Boven when he assumes this. He is using the woman year argument to say that if a couple using NFP as contraception has intercourse once a month, that she is likely to only get pregnant once in 120 chances.


Time for lunch, my brain is working slower than my fingers on the keyboard.
posted by parmanparman at 10:04 AM on July 18, 2006


[expletive deleted] - the first time I've used the "fantastic post/comment" flag.

Very well said.
posted by drstein at 10:06 AM on July 18, 2006


What I don't think it explains, however, is why Christians today are still so eager to push fecundity above all else, under the guise of compassion for embryos. We have endangered all future generations because of how much our population has grown, and how much we consume. To continue to stress fecundity as a moral imperative is ignorant of the realities of today, and reckless to the point of gross immorality.

I agree. I think it's the ethical equivalent of an "eggcorn." We're taught ethical injunction X, but not the reason for it. The reason is long since gone, so when confronted with the question of why X, we don't simply abandon X--ethics makes it difficult to just lay something aside, after all--so instead, we come up with some new reason and project it back.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:20 AM on July 18, 2006


klangklangston: "Be fruitful and multiply" is kinda an edict, innit?

Forgive me if I'm misremembering my Christianity here, but I understood that the reason Christians don't keep kosher is that in the New Testament, Jesus basically says that his teachings supercede the Old Testament, and so the food restrictions are no longer necessary. Would this translate over to other Old Testament edicts, such as that infamous "Be fruitful and multiply?" I tend to view keeping kosher and no-birth-control as two similarly outdated pratices that once made sense, but really just don't anymore. jefgodesky is right on the money: defending obligatory fecundity is just an attempt to rationalize an already engrained (irrational) belief.
posted by matematichica at 10:43 AM on July 18, 2006


I enjoyed this use of logic to refute claims and positions put forth by religious organizations and hope that in the near future the author will treat us to an exhibition of interpretive dance to address the causes of global warming.
posted by phearlez at 10:44 AM on July 18, 2006


Science and logic haven't really had a big impact on this folks up to now, but sure, go for it.
posted by tula at 10:56 AM on July 18, 2006


This is a good thread. Sparks so many questions. Like. Since the "pull-out" method is a legitimate Christian form of birth control, is performing a "facial" observing traditional family values or not?
posted by tkchrist at 10:58 AM on July 18, 2006


Matematichica--since the Book of Galatians is in direct opposition to Jesus in Luke 16:17, Christians pretty much just cherry-pick which parts of the Torah they're going to listen to, and which they're going to ignore. Pretty sweet deal if you can get it, but intellectually and spiritually bankrupt, as far as I'm concerned.

I'm not a big fan of Paul's--I see his contradictions of Jesus, like this one, being the start of the transformation of Christianity from radical revolutionary movement into slavish bulwark of all the systems of domination Jesus spent his life trying to undo. What we have now is Roman morality--the moral system of domination and empire, under the name of a man killed for opposing those very systems. Irony, thy name is Christ.

As Ghandi put it, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."
posted by jefgodesky at 10:59 AM on July 18, 2006 [4 favorites]


gurple: Actually, I wonder... is it explicitly grandfathered in? Does anyone know if there's reference to the rhythm method in the Bible?

Actually, the Hebrew Bible clearly frowns on the rhythm method. Leviticus ch. 15 makes it clear that the act of sleeping with a woman during her menstrual period makes a man ritually impure (i.e. unable to take part in the Temple sacrifices) for seven days. (Note that non-menstrual intercourse, as well as seminal emission, also results in the same sort of impurity for a single day.) In addition, a woman's period of impurity is considered to last until seven days after her menstrual flow stops. So sex is effectively prohibited for about two weeks out of every month - the same weeks you'd want to have sex if you were using the family planning method. The remaining two weeks are centered around the time of ovulation, thus increasing the chances of conception.

Orthodox Jewish couples still follow this practice, and will avoid sex, and sometimes even avoid touching each other, during the woman's menstrual period. As for evangelical Christians, I'm sure there are many who haven't even heard of the rule or don't take it seriously because they believe Jesus' teachings supersede the Old Testament, but surprisingly they all seem to know and take seriously another section of Leviticus which condemns homosexuality...
posted by purple_frogs at 11:15 AM on July 18, 2006


That was the context in which Christian morality was developed, and though the original Jesus Movement was quite radical and revolutionary in espousing celibacy for precisely this reason, we shouldn't mistake Christianity as-we-know-it for having much at all to do with the original Jesus Movement from which it borrows little more than terminology.

This doesn't follow from the quote about Roman practices, and it certainly doesn't explain why conservative jews and muslims have precisely the same viewpoint on this issue. What does exaplin the similarity among all three is the old testament.

It also neglects entirely the spread of Christianity to Greece, which was not imperial, had a far more complex view of sex and sexual relationships between men and women than the Romans, and at least among its elites, had a far more established intellectual culture than the romans. And Remember that Christ identified Greeks as those that would spread the faith, not the Romans.

The point of the quote is not about Christian morality, its about power and control. Power and social control is at the heart of the Old Testament. The new testament is practically hellenistic but for the miracles and the resurrection.

The new testament's elevation of women, prostitutes, etc would have been viewed at the time as subversive to jews and romans, but not nearly as much to Greeks who had a much more complex view of sex than either the jews of the time or the romans.

The question that no one is seriously asking is why educated people today still adhere to these and other beliefs when they have the choice not to. This is the heart of the matter, and "tradition" is not an acceptable answer.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:24 AM on July 18, 2006


Let's try and sound all sciencey, but instead of collecting data, lets just make assumptions! And when we know that our assumptions aren't supported by evidence, lets just keep on believing them!

You can argue for anything at all if you're allowed to make any kind of assumption that you want.
posted by 23skidoo

Indeed, Bovens seems to have mixed up scientific assumptions, which are often declared in order to focus on the experimental variables, with philosophical assumptions. The former are expected to be based on evidence, where evidence is available. The author opted not to base his assumptions on evidence. His editorial followup has a more few references, but no more evidence to support his original assumptions.

While posing an intriguing philosophical question, this paper does not have even the minimal scientific merit to make the statistical or quantitative claims that it makes.
posted by zennie at 11:25 AM on July 18, 2006


From a cultural perspective the entire abortion/embryo debate, the opponents are about subjugating and punishing women. It's a small penis thing.

From a religious perspective the opponents are about saving the "soul" of each and every human. That's what makes humans different when than all other animals, according to belief. The "God" element of existence is the "soul" and all is that matters.
For example, Spaniards would first baptize native American infants before bashing their brains out so the "soul" could be saved and "the nit would not become a flea."

Some great comments y'all, thanks!
posted by nofundy at 11:39 AM on July 18, 2006


must remember to do better preview!
posted by nofundy at 11:40 AM on July 18, 2006


“The reason is long since gone, so when confronted with the question of why X, we don't simply abandon X--ethics makes it difficult to just lay something aside, after all--so instead, we come up with some new reason and project it back.” -posted by jefgodesky

I have to agree. At some point any ethical imperative is rooted in practice and consequences. One could argue for abstinence on that basis, but having birth control available as a matter of course in that context makes as much practical sense as not playing with fire, but having homeowners insurance anyway.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:49 AM on July 18, 2006


christians pretty much just cherry-pick which parts of the Torah they're going to listen to, and which they're going to ignore. Pretty sweet deal if you can get it, but intellectually and spiritually bankrupt, as far as I'm concerned.

You're not supposed to listen to any of it. It's all superceded , from a philosophical standpoint. From a christian persepctive, the Old Testament is read through the lens of the new, not the other way around.

And there is no conflict - in Luke 16:17, Jesus is simply saying how hard it will be to brush aside the law. In context:
Luke 16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. [5] 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

In Galatians, Paul isn't addressing Roman law, he's addressing Jewish law:

Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. Gal. 5:4

But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law Gal. 5:18

Romans are not the problem - Render unto Caesar what is Caesar and all that. The conflict in the new testament, and what got jesus killed, and what modern new line American christians have backslid into, is the old testament.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:50 AM on July 18, 2006


Part of the problem, I think, stems from people largely abandoning churches which hold progressive social justice as a worthy cause, and from churches themselves abandoning such a cause.

There was a time when many churches vocally supported the causes of ameliorating poverty, civil rights, and even women's rights. They agitated for change because it was the right thing to do. The problem was that the promises made were too great, and this lead to expectations that couldn't be met. When people became disillusioned with the dreams of an end to poverty and racial harmony, the reactionaries seized the chance to became the overwhelmingly dominant voice in the religious and moral debate.

Instead of clergy promising to tackle the new moral and social challenges of a changing and modern world, reactionaries and dogmatists now tell us the answer to our problems lies in adopting their utopian visions of a pre-industrial society and morality based on fertility and hierarchy. There was a time when the voices of conscience were people like Dr. King and Jimmy Carter, people of great and profound faith who spoke of working together for a better world based on equality, fairness and compassion.

Today we have demagogues like Jerry Falwell and George Bush, people with dreams of ressurecting an imagined past of heroic patriarchs who ruled in the image of God as a benevolent tyrant. People who tell us that the answer to the moral problems we face is to pretend that the industrial revolution and all that succeeded it never occured. How did we let this happen?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:11 PM on July 18, 2006 [2 favorites]


While this is interesting, I think it's pathetic that we have to argue over embryos. EMBRYOS!
Somebody should start an adopt-an-embryo site.
posted by ackeber at 12:26 PM on July 18, 2006


Part of the problem, I think, stems from people largely abandoning churches which hold progressive social justice as a worthy cause, and from churches themselves abandoning such a cause. - [expletive deleted]

Thankfully not all churches are abandoning it. Maybe not even most. Two social justice minded churches that immediatly spring to mind are Unitarian Universals and the United Church of Canada. It's just that the go-back-to-the-bad-old-days extremists yell the loudest.
posted by raedyn at 12:30 PM on July 18, 2006


Today we have demagogues like Jerry Falwell and George Bush, people with dreams of ressurecting an imagined past of heroic patriarchs who ruled in the image of God as a benevolent tyrant. People who tell us that the answer to the moral problems we face is to pretend that the industrial revolution and all that succeeded it never occured. How did we let this happen?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:11 PM EST on July 18 [+fave] [!]


Good points. I think the answer to your question is simply, "it's easier."

What a lot of people here are doing is confusing new line Christianity with "established" or old line versions of it. Evangelicals, Adventists, mormons, basically every sect formed in the 19th century is new line. They are the ones with the megachurches, tv shows, political clout, and stranglehold on the republican party. They are the ones who believe the world was created 6000 years ago.

All of the social justice you mention is happening in the old line churches under the radar, because they don't spend money on PR. The only reason we know about the episcopal church is that the head guy is gay. But think about how progressive that church had to be over the last 10 years to get to that point.

The new line churches are united in their desire to restore the prominence of the old testament to Christianity. Hence the focus on condemning - gays, abortion, etc. - , and very little on compassion - helping prostitutes, the handicapped, and the other things Jesus did. The former is easy, the latter hard.

Simply put, it's "God Hates Fags", not "love thy neighbor", because the former does not impose any burden on the believer. The latter is a command to the believer to be burdened by love and compassion.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:33 PM on July 18, 2006 [5 favorites]


Why not just linux and avoid these issues altogether?
posted by srboisvert at 1:11 PM on July 18, 2006


Jeffgodesky- "It's that kind of myopic focus on irrelevant details that turns the sin of Sodom into sodomy, when the Bible clearly states that the sin of Sodom was violence, pride and lack of concern for the poor."

Wait, what? I'm sorry - where does the bible say this? Genesis 13 says that the men of Sodom were wicked, and 'sinning greatly against the Lord' (whatever that means) - but I always thought the book was rather vague re the sins of Sodom.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:13 PM on July 18, 2006


Pastabagel, that was precisely what I was hinting at. I think that it is mostly people abadoning the old mainline protestant churches rather than the churches abandoning progressive beliefs.

The new churches' popularity is a result of the failure of the old dreams of equality, compassion and justice to be easily achieved. People respond to the reactionaries and dogmatists because what they preach is simple and certain. Most importantly, they require no sacrifice, and allow their followers to live far beyond the means of the vast majority of people, and consume more than the earth can support.

What these churches give the faithful is the power of denial. The devout can sit happy in church, knowing that they are not guilty of sodomy or killing babies. They are not asked to give to the point of privation to help those who starve while they grow fat. They instead learn that they are fat because God protects the righteous who know where to put their penis and why. They are not asked to live more modestly, so their children do not have to inherit a world of natural poverty, squandered of its wealth. They instead believe that the lord is coming to their rescue, and they are to be spirited away while the unrighteous and the sodomites are tormented by the devil.

The two great moral problems of our age: environmental catastrophe and extreme poverty in a time of obscene weath, are being ignored by the so called moral leaders of the American dialouge. Those who would be in a position to provide moral guidance instead tell us that the current situation is fine, and you all are good people who need to sacrifice not one whit, and we listen because it feels good.

Our children will ask us why we did nothing as the world was raped of its wealth while billions starved. Our only answer will be that it was easier to debate the morality of putting your penis in another man's mouth, or taking a pill to prevent pregnancy, than to actually attempt to solve the problems we were busy creating with our profligate waste and thoughtless fecundity. Our age will be remembered as a cruel farce and inhuman contradiction; ours is a time of profound knowledge and tremendous ignorance, great wealth and terrible hunger.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:17 PM on July 18, 2006 [4 favorites]


Pastabagel, I used Rome as an example of how the immense mortality of agrarian society creates a moral imperative to reproduce as much as possible. The Greeks might seem, on the surface, to have some exceptions to this, but it's worth noting that they still followed the agrarian pattern of marrying older men to young girls, and the sexual permissions granted were always to men. Women, not men, are the bottleneck of human reproduction, and that's why agrarian sex laws are very stringent on women, and not on men--the double standard modern feminists have so often denounced.

And there is no conflict - in Luke 16:17, Jesus is simply saying how hard it will be to brush aside the law.

The parallel of Luke 16:17 in Matthew is Matthew 5:17-19, which makes it painfully clear what happened. Both Matthew and Luke were working from Mark and Q, and this is obviously from Q. Matthew, writing for a Jewish commuity, copied it basically as is, while Luke, writing for a Gentile Pauline community, added an explanation to reconcile this saying of Jesus' with Paul's teachings.

In Galatians, Paul isn't addressing Roman law, he's addressing Jewish law.

So was Jesus.

Romans are not the problem - Render unto Caesar what is Caesar and all that. The conflict in the new testament, and what got jesus killed, and what modern new line American christians have backslid into, is the old testament.

Jesus was crucified because he was a threat to Rome, no more, no less. Everything else is sectarian squabbling thrown in to score points, just like the "sons of darkness" in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Wait, what? I'm sorry - where does the bible say this? Genesis 13 says that the men of Sodom were wicked, and 'sinning greatly against the Lord' (whatever that means) - but I always thought the book was rather vague re the sins of Sodom.

Ezekiel 16:49:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:31 PM on July 18, 2006 [4 favorites]


...arrogant, overfed and unconcerned... did not help the poor and needy.

Golly, that sounds familiar somehow.
posted by Zozo at 1:40 PM on July 18, 2006


Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Well, I suppose Phelps is partly right. The US is a nation of Godless sodomites who will reap the consequences of their sin. He just made the little mistake of getting the definition of sodomite confused.

Thank you jefgodesky, I remembered that verse from a first year course that required the reading of almost the entire bible. I tried to find it for a rebuttal to Baby_Balrog but failed. You seem to have quite a commanding knowledge of the bible. Colour me impressed.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:35 PM on July 18, 2006


I hope we can still offer our young virgin daughters to mobs.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:04 PM on July 18, 2006


Pastabagel, I used Rome as an example of how the immense mortality of agrarian society creates a moral imperative to reproduce as much as possible.

I don't disagree with this, it just seems like an obvious point. But the emphasis on Rome overdoes it. Moral imperative? What about the biological imperative? In any case, this moral imperative continued well into the twentieth century, when modern medicinee and the like both reduuced infant mortality and made contraception possible. What this does not explain is the resistance to contraception on principle, which is the issue.

Jesus was crucified because he was a threat to Rome, no more, no less. Everything else is sectarian squabbling thrown in to score points, just like the "sons of darkness" in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Jesus was in no way a threat to Rome, and even if an argument to that effect can be constructed, this isn't the point of christianity. The point of christianity is faith through love, not adherence to the law.

Also, I think you are overemphasizing the textual differences between books etc., which invariably is misleading. The books are written by different people at different times in different places well after the events they are writing about took place. The message to Jews must be different from the message to Greeks, because they are different cultures. These aren't jesus's words, they are the words as retold through people of different cultures who would have interpreted those words differently based on their culture.

The tension at work in the new testament is hellenism vs. judaism, the two major philosophical viewpoints in the ancient world. First, the description of Jesus is remarkably similar to that of Socrates travelling with student and teaching through hypotheticals and questions. Second, the new testament is written in Greek, not hebrew or latin, despite the fact that the principals are jewish.

Furthermore, the Sermon on the Mount is religion as a series of Platonic ideals not commandments. Everyone interested in really understanding christianity should read it, because it makes it very clear why there are so few really good christians.

The resistance then, comes from the jews who see these teachings as a threat precisely because they embrace the hellenism at the expense of the law.

Paul is an immensely important figure in the Bible, and it is quite telling that so many people hate him, or dismiss him, as I've heard discussed around here so many times. Paul bridges the gap between judaism and hellenism. The struggle is how to convert Greeks (and romans who inherited greek thought) to christianity, when they were never jews in the first place. Prior missionaries would try to convert them to judaism, which failed.

Thus, Paul makes an effort to tie greek philosophy, reason to the spirit of mosiac law in an effort to bring the two in concert in jesus. It is a fascinating exercise that is doomed to fail. Thus the attempts by latter theologians and philosophers (incl. Jefferson, btw) attempt to strike Paul from the theology in an effort to strike any attachment to mosaic law. In this approach,christianity is viewed as the moral descendant of Plato and aristotle's logic and reason - pure enlightenment thinking.

Note also that Paul's crime upon returning to Jerusalem, for which he would ultimately be imprisoned, was to bring a greek into the temple.

When viewed in this light, the restrictions on contraception and sex signify return to mosaic law as a mechanism of control, not a return to the agrarian morality that motivated children. If this were true, artificial fertilization, would be embraced rather than scorned.

In the U.S. today, the conflict is christianity rooted in mosaic law (which is why jews and new line christians are on the same side of so many issues) vs. old line christianity rooted ultimately in plato alongside post-enlightenment liberalism.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:45 PM on July 18, 2006


You seem to have quite a commanding knowledge of the bible. Colour me impressed.

I'm a recovering fundie. Turns out actually reading your Bible makes it very difficult to maintain a fundamentalist devotion to your Bible. These days, if I'm Christian at all, it's in the most Gnostic sense....

Moral imperative? What about the biological imperative?

My apologies; it was a sloppy use of the phrase. I don't think there's any actual moral imperative, but in that context, the biological imperative was framed as a moral imperative. It gives greater weight to the act, and makes the society more likely to survive.

Jesus was in no way a threat to Rome, and even if an argument to that effect can be constructed, this isn't the point of christianity. The point of christianity is faith through love, not adherence to the law.

I disagree. I think Jesus was the only threat to Rome that was actually threatening. Messiahs were a dime a dozen in Jesus' day, but they were mostly cut in the mold of rebels against Rome. They were fairly easy to put down and crucify. I wrote a long article on my views about the historical Jesus last October, "Betraying the Son of Man," where I argued that Jesus was synthesizing Essenism and Cynicism, and building a community around that. The Romans knew the threat the Cynics posed--Lucian wrote about how the Cynics' success would be the end of civilization itself, as the "cobbler, fishmonger, carpenter, money-changer" all abandoned their abusive lords to join "the army of the dog."

Jesus made it even more potent. Cynics walked away alone; that made their lives ascetic and extreme, unappealing to most. It was primarily aimed at the elites who had the most to lose. Jesus appealed directly to the underclasses Roman society was built on, and attacked the foundations of Roman civilization in the most direct and effective manner possible. Then, he provided an alternative, a true community built on mutual support.

It was that community, and that appeal to the underclasses, that provided such appeal for the elite to co-opt it. I think that's exactly what Paul did, and that the process was completed with Constantine. "By the time Constantine came to the fore, the transformation was nearly complete. The intolerant, monolithic edifice of Christianity was the perfect complement to the terror and domination of the empire. As above, so below; as a single G-d rules in heaven, so must all the earth capitulate before a single throne. The imperial nightmare of despotic oppression could now pursue their subjects even into their prayers. Christianity became 'the spiritual arm of the empire,' and a tool of domination and terror for the single most successful military regime in history--a regime that ruled through secret police, internal spy networks, paranoia and the absolute monopoly of violence. Paul's Christianity was a perfect fit."

The books are written by different people at different times in different places well after the events they are writing about took place.

That's why the differing texts are so invaluable. We know people added and left out things as they suited their political agendas. It helps that the agendas are generally easy to discern and consistent--as they are here--so by comparing one text to another, we can start to move back towards what was original (or more likely original), and what was added later. This is a good example: comparing Luke and Matthew, and knowing their political motivations, makes it quite clear that Luke's excuses are attempts to smooth over the contradiction between Jesus saying that heaven and earth will sooner pass away than a single letter of the law become invalid, and Paul's assertion that the law is now invalid despite the persistence of heaven and earth.

The tension at work in the new testament is hellenism vs. judaism, the two major philosophical viewpoints in the ancient world.

That certainly is the under current of it all. As I mentioned, I see Jesus uniting Greek Cynicism and Jewish Essenism, but the conflict is a lot more nuanced than just that. Everyone involved was dealing with both elements. You seem to have a good grasp on the Greek elements at play in the New Testament, but your dismissal of the Jewish element seems misplaced. It was just as important as the Greek element. Some of the gospels, like John, certainly lean more heavily towards Hellenism; Matthew, towards Judaism. They were written in Greek because that was the lingua franca of the eastern empire, but it's also true that the synoptic gospels maintain a distinctly Aramaic tone nonetheless (John is an exception--that's pure Greek, through and through).

But, Judaism was a major philosophical viewpoint in the ancient world only for the Jews--certainly not the ancient world at large. It really only became important when Constantine recognized the political uses Christianity could serve in bolstering his claim to absolute power.

The resistance then, comes from the jews who see these teachings as a threat precisely because they embrace the hellenism at the expense of the law.

There was that element in play at the time, but it was a lot bigger than Jesus. That was at the heart of the sectarian strife of the Second Temple. The Sadducees maintained the old beliefs, but the Essenes and Pharisees added varying Greek elements--previously unknown elements in Judaism like the afterlife, heaven and hell, angels and demons, and so many of the elements the modern atheist/agnostic finds objectionable. In that confrontation, Jesus was irrelevant. Jesus was squarely on the Hellenizing side of that debate, but that does little to explain Jesus' fate.

The involvement of the Jews in Jesus' crucifixion was a "just so" story. One scholar I read at some point compared the plausibility of the gospels' line of events to the Supreme Court sentencing Jesse Jackson to death at midnight on Christmas Eve. On the other hand, no one who even attempted anything remotely like the cleansing of the Temple would never see another sunrise under the Romans. Crossan writes about "prophecy historicized" vs. "history prophesied," and the gospels' account is clearly the former, rather than the latter. By their own admission, there were no witnesses (Matt. 26:31).

Crucifixion was a Roman punishment. It was meted out by Romans, and only under Roman intervention. Summary execution of anyone the Romans didn't like was commonplace, and Pilate in particular was a monster (he was finally executed by Caligula, for being an insane tyrant--Caligula said that Pilate was an insane tyrant. Let that sink in.) As a Second Temple sect, Christianity was involved in the same sectarian struggles as the rest of them, and went about it in the exact same way. You can read almost identical passages as the gospels complaints against "the Jews" in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Historically, there is no doubt what happened: the Romans killed Christ.

Of course, the crucifixion was a terrible embarrasment. I'd say that all of Christology, the redemption of sins, etc., was an attempt to answer that embarrassment. Paul, especially, was the spin-meister that was able to turn a crucified man into a god worthy of worship. Paul was trying to sell to a Roman audience, so it was a bad idea to tell the story as it happened with Roman villains. The sectarian strife (to say nothing of the Roman suspicion of the Jews as being "cliquish" and unwilling to worship the emperor, which they saw as simply anti-social) made the new villain obvious. How the story came to be written that way is perfectly natural and understandable, but for it to actually have happened that way stretches incredulity.
posted by jefgodesky at 4:28 PM on July 18, 2006 [7 favorites]


Amen.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:31 PM on July 18, 2006


Pastabagel: In the U.S. today, the conflict is christianity rooted in mosaic law (which is why jews and new line christians are on the same side of so many issues) vs. old line christianity rooted ultimately in plato alongside post-enlightenment liberalism.


If what I've gathered from Pastabagel and jefgodesky's discussion of the motivations of the various Gospels is correct, it seems like Pastabagel's picture of current US Christianity is a nice inverse to early Christianity. There were different flavors of the good news for Greeks, Jews and what have you based on their respective intellectual traditions, and eventually the more hellenistic version won out. But I get the impression that this version is currently in decline, and the mosaic version is in ascendence in the US. Which means we're looking at a crossroads in the definition of Christianity, and perhaps we've arrived there because the formerly predominant interpretation of Christianity wasn't working. I'm thinking that in order to keeping co-existing with the rest of our episteme, maybe Christianity needs some new interpretations. Maybe religions are like constitutions; no good without an amendment process.

(On preview: Schnap! and [expletive deleted] had it so nicely wrapped up!)
posted by matematichica at 5:38 PM on July 18, 2006


conscientious rhythm method users can expect one pregnancy in ten woman years

I am guessing that these are more akin to dog years than to light years, but does anybody know exactly how long a woman year is? Is it 12 "months" of 28 days (give or take)? And if so, are leap months required every now & then to synch women up with the standard calendar? These would seem to be an ideal time for a massive global Saturnalia festival.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:05 PM on July 18, 2006


As I mentioned, I see Jesus uniting Greek Cynicism and Jewish Essenism, but the conflict is a lot more nuanced than just that. Everyone involved was dealing with both elements. You seem to have a good grasp on the Greek elements at play in the New Testament, but your dismissal of the Jewish element seems misplaced. It was just as important as the Greek element.

I'm not dismissing the Jewish element at all actually. I don't discuss it as much because everyone understands it's there. We know that Christ had to deal with Jewish law and theology, and had constant battles with the jewish elders. But the Greek element is practically ignored wholesale. My point is that it is the jewish element that got christ killed, not any fear from the Romans. The Romans carried it out, no doubt, but more as an imperial nod to settling a local dispute to maintain tranquility and order.

And you'll note that Paul's speech at Areios Pagos, he addresses Stoics (the more intellectual and less rebellious descendants of the Cynics) and their philosophical antipodes the Epicurians. This is a vital speech to the history of Christianity because if he failed to win the Greeks over, Christianity would be relegated to a short lived Middle Eastern Jewish sect. If he got the Greeks, the Romans would follow.

I think what's going on here (in this thread) is a replay of the friction between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Protestant churches and their offshoots. In Hellenistic thought, and the Christianity that depends on it, there is no law but natural law. There is philosophy, reflection, but not law. Law is a Roman contribution to Western civilization.

More importantly, however, is the now. Now, Hellenistic Christianity, along with the rest of the Enlightenment, is dead in America. The friction betweens sects is strictly one of authority - Canon Law as established by the Catholics versus the old testament revivalists in the new line churches, with the old line Lutherans and Presbyterians whithering in the middle.

To return to the point of the thread, law, Roman, Hebrew, Canon or otherwise is about social control. The social control at issue in reproductive rights is control of women. In their minds, women are dangerous because women = sex, and sex is subverts the law (see also 1984).

By contrast, the Greeks made a woman their goddess of wisdom and war.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:10 PM on July 18, 2006


Which means we're looking at a crossroads in the definition of Christianity, and perhaps we've arrived there because the formerly predominant interpretation of Christianity wasn't working.

matematichica - Hellenism had to win out because it already dominated the west. Hellenism included all those disparate niche philosophies the Greeks had as well as the ones that were being created anew on a regular basis. You weren't going to brush that aside, not to mention Plato and Aristotle, without basically saying "Hey, we're actaully all talking about the same thing."

But the Jewish element crept back in because (a) jewish converts were doing the missionary work, and old habits die hard, and (b) that much law and the power it weilds over the faithful is too tempting for those in charge to pass up.

Look at the tenets of the Eastern Orthodox Church and you will to this day find a great deal of stoic philosophy - it is the presence of this that make Eastern Churches seem practically buddhist in comparison to the Catholic church and everything that came after.

But about your point of this greek Christianity not working - I think it worked too well. It finally through off the shackles of the Catholic Church and birthed the enlightenment. By the time we get to the founding of the U.S., you have Jefferson editing the Bible down to only the hellenic philosophy. This is hellenic christianity - a truly personal philosophy. This is obviously not acceptable if you want to convince people that the "end is nigh" (which is how a lot of protestant sects started) or you want people to follow you to Utah.

And we reach today, where "conservative christians" want the old testament ten commandments in every courthouse, instead of "love thy neighbor". Frankly, we'd do better with "know thyself".
posted by Pastabagel at 6:29 PM on July 18, 2006


/A good post, but I’m marking this a fav. cause of the discussion.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:33 PM on July 18, 2006


Our age will be remembered as a cruel farce and inhuman contradiction

Optimist.

I don't expect our age will be remembered fifty years from now, as I don't expect our species is going to survive our stupidity.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:13 PM on July 18, 2006


Hello. Straw man, anyone?

From the linked article:
One could simply conceive of this whole argument as a reductio ad absurdum of the cornerstone of the argument of the pro-life movement, namely that deaths of early embryos are a matter of grave concern.

I don't think the pro-life movement has a problem with unintentional deaths of early embryos. Their issue is with intentionally causing the death of an otherwise viable fetus. Also from the linked article:

The first assumption is that there are a great number of conceptions that never result in missed menses. There are estimates that only 50% of conceptions actually lead to pregnancies.

This may be a reasonable assumption. In any case, no pro-lifers I know have a problem with the 50% of conceptions that don't become pregnancies.
posted by bugmuncher at 9:16 PM on July 18, 2006


"I don't expect our species is going to survive our stupidity."

Amen!

This is real simple. There's living, then there's unliving. Let's burn all this chaff away and get to the point.

"I’m marking this a fav. cause of the discussion."

You can't call this tissue we're arguing about life. It's not even death. It's not even potential life. It's not living. It's not gonna live. It's gonna get thrown away. They freeze it for awhile and then it gets thrown away. The stuff scientists are asking to have access to - these stem cell things - it's unlife. It's unliving tissue. We're not protecting the living here, when we argue over this crap and allow paranoid fear of uncertainty to prevail over rational decision-making. We're not protecting the maybe living. We're protecting the unliving. WTF??

It's not like a farmer wanting to protect his crops. It's not like a farmer wanting to protect the seeds he's gonna use for next year's crops. It's not ordering a farmer to protect his own resources that he was keeping around anyway in the barn or on the yard cuz maybe he'll fix that tractor someday or maybe he'll get around to using stuff that's been gathering rust for ten years you never know. It's wanting to protect what the farmer ain't gonna use ever. The seeds he's gonna throw away anyway, and won't even become weeds maybe someday.

Embryos that have been put on the deep freeze and are gonna get thrown away anyway? That's unliving. You might as well be arguing to preserve sperm that ends up in someone's sock. Militant abortionists are living, breathing, failed abortions, protecting the unliving. President Bush could have allowed legislation at the beginning of his presidency that might have saved Christopher Reeve's life. In protecting the unliving, he's dropped the ball on protecting the living.

When we got room for the living, then we can argue about defending the unliving. When we've put an end to homelessness, when we've put an end to cancer and quadrapelegia and aging and cerebral palsy and countless other medical concerns, when we've taken care of disease and made this planet safe for the living, then we can argue about whether or not we're harming the unliving. If they're not here yet, and there's no guarantee they're gonna be here, they don't trump what's already here. No sane argument would allow the unliving to trump the living.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:29 PM on July 18, 2006


There is something I wanted to say earlier but somehow forgot to.

The discussion here has mostly focused on the origin of Christian sexual morality as it is today. That discussion has been immensely rewarding. This has been one of the best threads I can remember reading, let alone contributing to. However, I am mostly interested in what this morality means for the future.

I think what follows should be abundantly clear to anyone who has considered the consequences of a modern society continuing the practice of pre-industrial sexual morality. Either our morality must change, or more people need to die, soon. This is a simple fact of life. Our population has exploded. This is mostly a result of the industrial revolution and the subsequent advances in technology.

Humanity's power to shape the world to suit our needs has skyrocketed, and stands to continue to climb into the foreseeable future. As this has happened we have allowed the human population to grow exponentially, even as we saw such exponential growth lead to sudden disaster in every reasonably closed system life has been known to grow in. I remember writing a program for a comp sci class that used simple algorithms to simulate from a few random seeds the growth pattern of bacteria on a plane evenly covered in nutrients. It always grew exponentially until the resources were exhausted and everything died. Why would the same basic principle not apply to us? Humanity has already grown to unsustainable size at our current rate of consumption, let alone what that consumption would be if everyone lived like an American. Any further population growth is complete madness. Whereas the historical antecedent of Roman Catholic sexual ethic was an empire that needed an unending supply of children to just to prevent its population shrinking, we now live with a choice. We can promote contraception, and the deaths of embryos it entails, or many people will have to die much younger.

There are some places where the former happens more so than the latter. The United States is currently one. There are other places where the latter is the dominant means of population control. They are universally miserable places to live, places like Sudan, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Is it at all surprising that the Middle East and Sudan have exceptionally high population growth rates, and hold more people than the land can support? It has become our immediate moral imperative to resist profligate fertility. Likewise, if and only if we control population growth can we reasonably expect to ameliorate the extreme poverty that steps on the lives of unfathomable billions. Given that the means are available to us, we must do this. It is no less than our moral duty.

The countries where contraception is an accepted fact of life, such as those of northwestern Europe, are actually shrinking. This poses some minor problems of its own, but nothing compared to the famine and chaos that inevitably follows a population that grows beyond its sustainable means of support. The bulk of opposition to population control in the form of contraception and women’s reproductive rights comes from the defenders of the agrarian dogma of fertility. The subjection of women across the Islamic world is directly related to their high rates of fertility and subsequent population growth. As a result, the prospects for the huge numbers of youth in the Arab world are growing increasingly dim, and the perpetual tragedy of this region will only intensify as more people are crowded into a desert that can barely support those who currently live there.

These are the consequences we face if we wish to return to a pre-industrial morality; these are the consequences that have already devastated places where religious influence and a lack of foreign contraceptive aid have been instrumental in preventing foreseeable catastrophe. I fail to see how these consequences can be justified.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:10 PM on July 18, 2006


Agreed, [expletive deleted]. Rampant reproduction is an outdated and unsustainable moral model. And tying what you've just said to the previous (fascinating) discussion of the origins of Christian sexual morality, I'd say that the current latching on to the "agrarian dogma of fertility" is a vain attempt to turn back the clock on an ideological evolution that people find uncomfortable.

If, as Pastabagel says, the Hellenistic version of Christianity is the basis of the Enlightenment, then most of the Western intellectual tradition is based on that version, rather than the more Old Testament-faithful Judaic version. And since a great deal of the science and technology that made possible the Industrial Revolution comes out of this intellectual tradition, we have a basis for modern technology in Hellenistic Christianity. Now granted this is all probably over-generalized, but it suggests that Hellenistic Christianity is more "evolutionarily" (in the vague humanities sense of the term) suited to modern society than the Judaic version. The problem arises in that it seems that Hellenistic Christianity seems to have basically adapted itself out of existence: quite a bit of it has mutated out of religion and into society in general. For example, I lived with a woman in Spain who insisted that I was somehow fundamentally Christian because I felt it was wrong to cheat on someone or kill them. This despite the fact that I have never professed a belief in any god. Basically, the Christian tradition that gave rise to the Enlightenment and Thomas Jefferson adapted itself out of existence with deism, and suddenly people found themselves with a religious hole where the predominant form of Christianity had been. In this light, I suppose it's only logical to turn to the other, perhaps neglected Christian tradition as a stopgap. I'm just hoping it does indeed prove temporary.
posted by matematichica at 12:32 AM on July 19, 2006


Dr A M H Williams, via parmanparman> ...otherwise it would certainly, as in this case, be reductio ad absurdum.

... which seemed to me to be the point.

If opposition to abortion comes down to the existence of a soul, and all fertilized embryos have souls, then you need to explain how it's OK to cause the death of embryos one way but not another.

Maybe the explanation is that you feel differently about the intentionality of rhythm versus that of other methods. That would be a very conservative-Christian way of dealing with the issue -- it would remind me of the fact that a lot of conservative Christian kids who have sex deal with their guilt over it by not using contraception. The idea is that you're laying yourself down as a sinner before God and exposing yourself to His judgement.

For some of them, it goes beyond just assuaging guilt: They actually feel as though they are making some kind of peculiar offering to God by sinning and giving him the chance to forgive or punish them. (And that's a non-exclusive 'or', btw.)
posted by lodurr at 5:25 AM on July 19, 2006


Discussion of antecedents is all well and good, but it does little to explain how people experience their ethos in the moment.

So while I personally enjoy the effort of tracing the philosophical history of Christian attitudes toward reproduction and the genesis of the soul, I also think it's possible to read too much into that with regard to what it means for current practice. The vast majority of people do what they do with no particular awareness of the tradition that shaped their rituals.
posted by lodurr at 5:28 AM on July 19, 2006


lodurr-

"The vast majority of people do what they do with no particular awareness of the tradition that shaped their rituals."

I think most people do what they do because they are doing what someone else is telling them to do. Now, in the 21st century fundamentalist christians want to restore the mosaic law as a foundation for christians because it gives them power over those christians - the mechanism of that power is guilt.

Most people want this though, they want to be led, they need an authority to tell them what to do. Even the ancient greeks knew this - the greek pantheon was a myth for the masses, but not the philosophers, and they knew this at the time. But not everybody can be Aristotle.

Likewise the masses today need often their religion to turn their fear into power. The "experience their ethos" nowadays as a backlash - too liberal sexual mores, "too much" racial tolerance, too much in popular culture that challenges their childhood indoctrination.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:44 AM on July 19, 2006


I don't disagree with you. I'm just saying that knowing how we got here -- while important in understanding where we're liable to end up -- doesn't help us as much as knowing what we're doing, right now -- and what motivates us, right now, to do that.

There's probably an allusion to be drawn with the Uncertainty Principle -- position, vector, velocity -- but I'll leave that for others.
posted by lodurr at 8:07 AM on July 19, 2006


Thank you jefgodesky ... You seem to have quite a commanding knowledge of the bible. Colour me impressed. - [expletive deleted]

Well look at his handle: jefgodsky.
posted by raedyn at 8:20 AM on July 19, 2006


Wow, this must be the best discussion I have ever read on MeFi. Thanks jefgodsky, [expletive deleted], pastabagel and others. There's a lot to muse on here, and I've also learnt a lot.
posted by ob at 8:41 AM on July 19, 2006


Matematichica, I think you may have answered my question posed much earlier about what happened to the old progressive churches.

I guess society is changing too fast for many people, and because of that they reject any religion or moral philosophy that adapts. I can understand the need for something solid and permanent, but I sincerely hope that eventually it is discarded as a relic of a time long since past. Western civilization will not survive our age if we can't adapt our beliefs to modern realities. We can't afford the easy answers the conservative churches offer.

As an aside, I thank everyone who contributed to this thread. I thought flamebait going in, and this caught me completely by surprise. What happened?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:15 AM on July 19, 2006


What happened?

It was a God thing. ;-)
posted by nofundy at 9:18 AM on July 19, 2006


...says nofundy.

lodurr: knowing how we got here -- while important in understanding where we're liable to end up -- doesn't help us as much as knowing what we're doing, right now -- and what motivates us, right now, to do that.


For me, at least, knowing how we got here is helpful in figuring out what we're doing right now, and why, at least in the grand scheme of things. Pastabagel says that people "'experience their ethos' nowadays as a backlash," and for me, the backlash part is crucial to figuring out the current situation. Most christians don't know about the history of christianity, it is precisely because they don't know that we get the current state of affairs. It's a backlash, a blind reaction prompted by ill defined feelings of discontent with modern society. And the very vagueness of the feeling makes it easy to manipulate, especially by someone who has a better grasp on how it developed. I'm not implying that the average fundamental christian, or even the average founder of a fundamental christian church, thought through the whole hellenistic/mosaic christianity thing, but perhaps some of the 19th century religious developments were seen in a clear "back to the origins because this branch no longer holds" sort of light.

I see what you're getting at with the Uncertainty Principle: knowing the past course of human thought is like know its velocity vector, but it doesn't tell us where we are now, and in fact, knowing more about the history of thought should imply we must be less certain about what we think today. But I think we're working on Newtonian scales here, to be honest. It's possible to know where we are and how we got here, and position is the integral of velocity. Plus a constant.

And I too would like to thank you all for the excellent discussion.
posted by matematichica at 10:39 AM on July 19, 2006


Ok, I did a little research. If someone asks I can point to where I got these numbers, but I closed the windows and don't want to dig up the links. Most of these numbers are estimates, especially the British census of Palestine.

In 1922, the British estimated the population of the mandate of Palestine and Transjordan (I couldn't find numbers for east of the Jordan, but it probably consists almost exclusively of Arab and Bedouin populations, and is probably half the population to consist of approximately 500 000 Arabs, 100 000 Bedouin and around 80 000 Jews plus some other small minorities.

By 1948, just the Arab population west of the Jordan was 1.3 million. The population growth rate of the Palestinian Arab population was about 3% or so during those years, most of this came from the high birth rate; there was a small (<100 000) immigration of Arabs to Palestine in that time. Combine this with the fact that this area is mostly desert, and rapid Jewish immigration, and you see how conflict would arise.

Today, the Gaza Strip's population grows 4.5% per year. This is a doubling every 16 years.

Saudi Arabia's population is projected to double in 25 years to almost 50 million, and double again in another 25 to be 100 million. The emphasis on the subjection of women to childbirth in this country and in the rest of the Arab world has created countless angry and idle youth. What are these people going to do when they are packed into a desert with no more resources, no more oil to buy food and water? I cringe when I think of the answer. If Saudi Arabia insists on maintaining a backwards and reactionary agrarian theocratic sexual morality, they will face a future of starvation, violence and universal misery. While this fate may now be unavoidable in Saudi Arabia, it is avoidable for the world as a whole. In order to avoid it, making religious reactionaries the world over completely irrelevant is paramount.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:34 AM on July 19, 2006


"I’m marking this a fav. cause of the discussion." - Smed

“You can't call this tissue we're arguing about life...” - posted by ZachsMind

Because all that has anything to do with that comment.
You want to crazy argue? I can do crazy if you like. You’re a complete idiot ZachsMind if you think that guy was safe. What are you nuts? The second baseman had the ball at least three seconds before the runner got there. I don’t know what you’re looking at, maybe your head is in the stands ogling some broad, but you are way out of line if you think he’s safe at second. There’s no way. He’s not even that fast. And he half jogged on his way over because he knew he was going to be tagged.
*kicks dirt on ZachsMind’s shoes*

(and I still think this thread is a good discussion)
posted by Smedleyman at 1:36 PM on July 19, 2006


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