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Katie van Schaijik

Flight from reality

Jan. 23 at 1:38pm

T.S. Eliot once wrote, "man cannot bear too much reality."

I've been meditating on this a lot in recent years--realizing its truth more and more, and finding it a key to understanding various human situations I come across.  

In his post on forgiveness below, Michael Healy mentions one especially common case of reality avoidance: the dishonesty of the wrong-doer about his responsibility for the wrong.  

searing article on Roe v. Wade at realclearpolitics.com (hat tip Barbara Nicolosi) today shows that it happens not only on an individual level, but also at the communal level. [My bold]

If human embryonic life is morally worthy of protection, we have permitted sixty million murders under our watch. Faced with this prospect, many of us—maybe even most—flee from the facts. We deny that the living human embryo is “truly” or “fully” human life, adopt a view that whether the embryo or fetus is human “depends,” or can be judged in degrees, on a sliding scale over the course of pregnancy; or we proclaim uncertainty about the facts of human biology; or we proclaim moral agnosticism about the propriety of “imposing our views on others”; or we throw up our hands and give up because moral opposition to an entrenched, pervasive social practice is not worth the effort, discomfort, and social costs. The one position not on the table—the one possibility too hard to look at—is that abortion is a grave moral wrong on a par with the greatest human moral atrocities of all time and that we passively, almost willingly, accept it as such.


 

TorahJew

That is the question, isn't it? Does abortion trump everything else? Is it more important than freedom at home and around the world? Is it more important than the rights of women in the muslim world? Our profound political problems?

I don't know. My sense is that we can only address it as part of an overall package, if only because most people (and we live in a democracy) do not view abortion as that important an issue. Abortion, after all, is greatly reduced in a moral society, so maybe we should address the cause and not the effect?

Is it wrong to even think of abortion as a political issue that we must "keep in perspective"?

#1 - Jan. 24 at 10:23am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

TorahJew, Jan. 24 at 10:23am

Is it wrong to even think of abortion as a political issue that we must "keep in perspective"?

What would you have said to someone who proposed, in the 1920s and early 30s, that Hitler's anti-semitism should be "kept in perspective" with all the good he doing in Germany?

In fact, this is just what many did say back then, to Dietrich von HIldebrand (for instance), when he began to rail against the absolute evil of Naziism.  He was told to tone it down; stop exaggerating; get perspective; etc.

No amount of perspective can render an absolute evil relative.  It is a plain moral duty to resist it absolutely.

#2 - Jan. 24 at 11:03am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Here is a quote from an address von Hildebrand gave in Vienna in 1937.

There is one thing above all which we must not forget, namely that the present attack on the Jewish people is not just about a minority problem... Hence the current attack on the Jews targets not only this people of fifteen million but mankind as such.  Each one of us must perceive the present degradation of the Jews as an attack on human nature as such...And so we all are reviled and violeated whenever the dignity of a man is trampled under foot...

No wonder the order for his arrest and execution was on the list of demands the Nazis gave Schussnig before the Anschluss.

In abortion we have a moral parallel.  It is a trampling on the dignity of man.  It is an absolute evil, which we cannot and must not tolerate.

#3 - Jan. 24 at 11:07am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

TorahJew, Jan. 24 at 10:23am

Is it more important than the rights of women in the muslim world? Our profound political problems?

Yes, in two ways.

1) The right to life is, objectively, more fundamental than any other right. And the legal "right" to kill other human beings is the worst possible violation of human rights.

2) The rights of women in the Muslim world are not the direct concern of the American voter, while a standing travesty in our own legal system and culture is.

#4 - Jan. 24 at 11:55am | quote

 

TorahJew

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 24 at 11:03am

What would you have said to someone who proposed, in the 1920s and early 30s, that Hitler's anti-semitism should be "kept in perspective" with all the good he doing in Germany?

In fact, this is just what many did say back then, to Dietrich von HIldebrand (for instance), when he began to rail against the absolute evil of Naziism.  He was told to tone it down; stop exaggerating; get perspective; etc.

No amount of perspective can render an absolute evil relative.  It is a plain moral duty to resist it absolutely.

Your point is spot on. But are you resisting it absolutely? Do you dedicate all your waking hours to this issue? Do you not handle abortion as one of many topics that concern you?

I don't have good answers here. But taken to its logical conclusion, one would end up doing things that very very few Americans would find defensible.

#5 - Jan. 24 at 12:34pm | quote

 

TorahJew

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 24 at 11:55am

TorahJew, Jan. 24 at 10:23am

Is it more important than the rights of women in the muslim world? Our profound political problems?

Yes, in two ways.

1) The right to life is, objectively, more fundamental than any other right. And the legal "right" to kill other human beings is the worst possible violation of human rights.

2) The rights of women in the Muslim world are not the direct concern of the American voter, while a standing travesty in our own legal system and culture is.

I agree that killing others is the worst thing to do. But I don't think life trumps freedom - we fought a revolution over precisely this question, if my schooling serves me.

I concur that our primary obligation is to problems in our own society.

#6 - Jan. 24 at 12:36pm | quote

 

TorahJew

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 24 at 11:03am

What would you have said to someone who proposed, in the 1920s and early 30s, that Hitler's anti-semitism should be "kept in perspective" with all the good he doing in Germany?

Oddly enough, I don't criticize the world for not caring about the Jews under Hitler. I have realistic expectations. And with only very few exceptions, the only non-Jews who *did* care were those who were personally involved. There were virtually no righteous gentiles who were across the Atlantic.

Hitler was a Jewish problem, and one we handled terribly. The only options were flight or fight - and by and large we chose stasis.

Morally, we are obligated to fight evil. Very few people from any religious persuasion actually live accordingly.

#7 - Jan. 24 at 12:42pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

I think you equivocate on the meaning of absolutely here.  To oppose something absolutely doesn't mean I have to dedicate all my waking hours to the issue.  It is not the only absolute out there.  There are other grave evils to be opposed, and other goods to be defended and cultivated.

The obligation to oppose it absolutely means, in the concrete, that I can't treat it as a relative evil—like the evil of burdensome taxes and regulation. I can accept Newt's character defects or Mitt's flip-flops as less bad than Ron Paul's foreign policy views.  I can't accept "compromises" on abortion.  I can't say, "It's not the most important issue on the table for me, so I'll throw my support behind this pro-abortion candidate whose good on monetary policy."

But you are right than I can do more than I am doing.

#8 - Jan. 24 at 12:51pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

TorahJew, Jan. 24 at 12:36pm

I agree that killing others is the worst thing to do. But I don't think life trumps freedom - we fought a revolution over precisely this question, if my schooling serves me.

I concur that our primary obligation is to problems in our own society.

We didn't fight a revolution for the "freedom" to kill the vulnerable among us.  We faught it for the sake of establishing a government that would cherish and protect our unalienable rights, first among which is life.

#9 - Jan. 24 at 12:54pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

TorahJew, Jan. 24 at 12:42pm

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 24 at 11:03am

What would you have said to someone who proposed, in the 1920s and early 30s, that Hitler's anti-semitism should be "kept in perspective" with all the good he doing in Germany?

Oddly enough, I don't criticize the world for not caring about the Jews under Hitler. I have realistic expectations. 

We are right not to expect people to live up the demands of the moral life. But those demands remain regardless, and we are obliged both to defend them in the publis sphere and to abide by them in our personal lives.

The evil of Naziism was not limited to the Jews.  It ought to have been resisted by all "men of good will."

#10 - Jan. 24 at 12:58pm | quote

 

TorahJew

OK. Your logic is consistent, and it makes sense. Though I think "freedom" is more fundamental.

You may find it interesting that Judaism does not view abortion the same as does the Catholic church; it comes down to a very interesting difference of opinion about the meaning of a single word.

#11 - Jan. 24 at 1:09pm | quote

 

TorahJew

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 24 at 12:58pm

The evil of Naziism was not limited to the Jews.  It ought to have been resisted by all "men of good will."

Whether limited to Jews or not, we who are often on the receiving end must be realistic about how much help we can expect from others. If we are not, then we will die for our naivete.

In order to resist the Nazis, "men of good will" must believe that all people are created in the image of G-d - otherwise life (as Pete Singer would agree) has no instrinsic value.  How many people believe that all human life has a divine spark, and are willing to go out of their way to help those lives? Outside of the US and Israel, the number is very small.

And for all that Israel leads the world in assisting when an earthquake strikes a foreign land, the country has aborted more children than have been born alive. Unspeakable tragedy.

#12 - Jan. 24 at 1:17pm | quote

 

Laurence

Since 1976, both Democratic and Republican parties have allowed federal funding of abortions in cases of rape or incest. Of all the conditions and qualifications that Republicans put on their conservatism, I can’t think of one as maddening or outrageous as the caveat: “I am against abortion except in cases of rape or incest.”

 This halfway position only indicates that the would-be conservative is not, in fact, convinced that the fetus is a human child since conception. It means they are more preoccupied with the annoying tendency among Republicans towards social compromise than the substance and rationale behind any of their conservative platforms.

What does that condition mean, only in cases of rape or incest? If a woman gets pregnant from voluntary or non-incest sex, then they say she can’t abort her child. If she is raped, then all of the sudden she has, by virtue of her victimization, attained a new and exclusive right to abort the child? That’s a pretty perverted positive right. They didn't have the right before, but now they do. Who gave it to them, the rapist? The child that was conceived? The rapist and/or the child gave them the right to kill the child?

To say nothing of the increased accusations of rape that would follow such a law (women wanting abortions and thus falsely claiming they were raped) this is still treating the child’s life as meaningless because he or she was not conceived properly. The politicians who think this covers their bases, being both against abortion but not too hard-line, either don’t think their platforms through, or else they’re not really conservative on abortion. Either way, they must really judge their constituents to be too dull to notice or care.

#13 - Jan. 24 at 5:42pm | quote

 

TorahJew

Your conclusion indeed follows. If an unborn child is 100% the same as one that has been born, then all abortion is murder.

I do not think it is outrageous, though, to allow exceptions if one believes that an unborn child is NOT the same as one that is born. It boils down to whether one sees potential of life as being the very same thing as life itself. Do you accept that people with different beliefs can legitimately arrive at different conclusions? Can you tolerate a difference of opinion based on different religious convictions?

#14 - Jan. 24 at 7:38pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

TorahJew, Jan. 24 at 7:38pm

Your conclusion indeed follows. If an unborn child is 100% the same as one that has been born, then all abortion is murder.

One doesn't have to hold that the pre-born child is 100% the same as one who has been born to hold that he is a person made in God's Image and Likeness, knit together by Him in his mother's womb, and precious in his sight, and that it is therefore, always wrong to kill that child, even if he came into being through an act of human violence.  

He could not have come into being without also, and more fundamentally, an act of God's love.

#15 - Jan. 24 at 8:21pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Rick Santorum is not afraid to defend the truth, cost him what it may politically.

#16 - Jan. 24 at 8:22pm | quote

 

TorahJew

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 24 at 8:21pm

He could not have come into being without also, and more fundamentally, an act of God's love.

I believe that G-d usually allows nature to run its course, and that includes procreation. He only gets involved in our lives when (and to the extent) that we invite the relationship. That, for example, is why very few people are punished (by G-d) in this world for their evil. And it follows to me that humans certainly can procreate without G-d's love.

Another doctrinal loggerhead, I am afraid. We seem to keep getting those. I'll back away quietly!

#17 - Jan. 24 at 10:23pm | quote

 

Laurence

TorahJew, Jan. 24 at 7:38pm

I do not think it is outrageous, though, to allow exceptions if one believes that an unborn child is NOT the same as one that is born. It boils down to whether one sees potential of life as being the very same thing as life itself. 

Keeping this within the confines of American jurisprudence, the prenatal child is held to be the same as the post-natal child, provided the parents want it to be. If someone murders a pregnant woman, he or she will be charged with double homicide, not homicide and 2nd degree manslaughter or destruction of private property. Under any other legal circumstances, the child is held to be fully alive and fully human.

The prenatal child is indisputably alive; the potential has already been realized. The question is whether or not it is regarded as a dignified human being. Abortionists try to keep it to strictly scientific terms and deny its humanity. Even if we indulge the strictly scientific approach, then we must still ask, what is the fetus if not human? It is a living organism made by and of living human cells, imbued not only in the image of its Creator, but that of its parents.

Of course I can accept that people with different beliefs will arrive at different conclusions. Will I tolerate a difference of opinion based on religious views? NO. Not when it is an absolute evil (see discussion above).

#18 - Jan. 24 at 11:35pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

TorahJew, Jan. 24 at 10:23pm

I believe that G-d usually allows nature to run its course, and that includes procreation. He only gets involved in our lives when (and to the extent) that we invite the relationship. That, for example, is why very few people are punished (by G-d) in this world for their evil. And it follows to me that humans certainly can procreate without G-d's love.

Another doctrinal loggerhead, I am afraid. We seem to keep getting those. I'll back away quietly!

Well then, your view seems to be grounded in a "doctrine" I'd like to challenge philosophically.  If man is made in God's Image and Likeness, then it follows that he has that image in his being from the moment he is made.  He is "made" at conception.

#19 - Jan. 25 at 8:50am | quote

 

TorahJew

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 25 at 8:50am

Well then, your view seems to be grounded in a "doctrine" I'd like to challenge philosophically.  If man is made in God's Image and Likeness, then it follows that he has that image in his being from the moment he is made.  He is "made" at conception.

Did you read the Jonathan Sacks paper I linked? It is quite short, and best explains my understanding. It also points out that your position has not always been the Church's.

The key distinction was, as Augustine put it, between embryo informatus and embryo formatus - an unformed or formed foetus. If the foetus was formed (i.e. more than forty or eighty days had passed since conception: there was argument over the precise period), then causing its death was murder. So taught Tertullian in the second century. So the law remained until 1588 when Pope Sixtus V ordained that abortion at any stage was murder. This ruling was overturned three years later by Pope Gregory XIV, but re-introduced by Pope Pius IX in 1869.

I would add that very early abortion is less problematic to Jews: G-d blew his soul into Adam through his nostrils. Before a baby has nostrils, it may not have a soul.

#20 - Jan. 25 at 9:21am | quote

 

Laurence

Did Adam ever have an infancy? It Adam's unique formation really the only place from which we can derive the humanity of an unborn child?

God also made Eve from one of Adam's ribs. What are the rammifications there for unborn girls?

#21 - Jan. 25 at 9:30am | quote

 

TorahJew

The Torah talks about damages from miscarriages, as Jonathan Sacks discusses.

I also found this. Key excerpt:

...western civilization is formed on the basis of two quite different cultures, ancient Greece and ancient Israel. Ancient Greece saw ethics in terms of nature, ancient Israel saw ethics in terms of law, and Christianity was formed in the meeting of those two cultures.

The second distinction, I think, is no less important: the distinction between a person and human life. They sound the same, but they’re not at all. In Jewish law the foetus is not a person, the pre-implanted embryo is not a person but it is human life. “Personhood”, with all its rights and responsibilities, begins at birth; but prior to birth we have duties to embryos, not because they are persons but because they are human life. The difference is, that whereas our duties to a person may not be over-ridden by other moral concerns, our duties to human life may be over-ridden by other duties, not least the duties we owe persons: for instance, saving life, or curing disease. 

#22 - Jan. 25 at 9:47am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

The Catholic Church has always held that abortion is absolutely evil, an offense against God, the Author of Life.

Disputes about when "ensoulment" might take place were grounded in ignorance of embyology.  

This is from Psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body.

#23 - Jan. 25 at 9:48am | quote

 

TorahJew

Sacks continues

And therefore, the conclusion to which we have come as a community, to which my rabbinical court has come in the light of questions about stem cell research and so on, has been the following: that embryos, on the one hand, may not be created in the laboratory simply for research purposes or to be destroyed. However, embryos created permissibly, namely surplus embryos created in the course of in vitro fertilisation may be used for research, and that includes the embryonic stem cells, or therapeutic cloning – the kind of cloning used to treat genetic disease.

#24 - Jan. 25 at 9:48am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

TorahJew, Jan. 25 at 9:47am

The second distinction, I think, is no less important: the distinction between a person and human life. They sound the same, but they’re not at all. In Jewish law the foetus is not a person, the pre-implanted embryo is not a person but it is human life. “Personhood”, with all its rights and responsibilities, begins at birth;

I find this a thoroughly specious and pernicious distinction, posited for the sake of rationalizing abortion and other evils.

#25 - Jan. 25 at 9:55am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

I cannot understand that anyone—a Jew above all—can hear without recoiling in horror a line of logic that justifies killing and experimenting on certain members of our species in order to possible find cures for the diseases of other members.

#26 - Jan. 25 at 10:01am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

A line from Dr. Crosby's installment today about personal embodiment provides a piece of the puzzle, even though the focus is more on sexual morality than abortion.  He writes about a moral attitude in which we dominate and instrumentalize the material world, including the human body:

One looks upon the material world, and even one's own human body, as nothing but raw material for human making and manufacturing, as if everything in nature receives its meaning from what man chooses to do with it.

It's that idea that it is false and hubristic to imagine that things only have moral meaning when we choose to make it so that I especially want to draw to your attention, in a spirit of friendly philosophical challenge.

#27 - Jan. 25 at 10:22am | quote

 

TorahJew

I hear you. I can see it from your perspective.

Nevertheless, this is what the Torah tells us, and the way in which we have interpreted it for thousands of years. So this is my understanding of G-d's Will. We simply do not view potential life as being precisely the same as actualized life.

Out of curiosity, I checked on other faiths. Apparently Islamic Law is similar to Jewish Law in this respect.

All schools of thought, traditional and modern, make allowances for circumstances threatening the health or life of the mother.

But I think we have now reached a dead end, and this is your web site. So unless there is somewhere productive we can go with this discussion, I think there is where I bow out.

#28 - Jan. 25 at 10:31am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

TorahJew, Jan. 25 at 10:31am

But I think we have now reached a dead end, and this is your web site. So unless there is somewhere productive we can go with this discussion, I think there is where I bow out.

Shalom, brother.

#29 - Jan. 25 at 10:33am | quote

 

TorahJew

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 25 at 10:22am

One looks upon the material world, and even one's own human body, as nothing but raw material for human making and manufacturing, as if everything in nature receives its meaning from what man chooses to do with it.

Huh. This is exactly my position!

Nature was created for our use. And the world was created so that we can complete it, through the positive exercise of our free choice.

My job as a Jew is to hold fast to the physical world, and elevate it into the spiritual realm. In so doing, I can heal the divisions that G-d created in the beginning. And the physical world exists for this purpose alone. Without mankind, nature has no raison d'etre.

#30 - Jan. 25 at 10:35am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

TorahJew, Jan. 25 at 10:35am

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 25 at 10:22am

One looks upon the material world, and even one's own human body, as nothing but raw material for human making and manufacturing, as if everything in nature receives its meaning from what man chooses to do with it.

Huh. This is exactly my position!

Then Prof. Crosby has a challenge for you.

#31 - Jan. 25 at 10:39am | quote

 

TorahJew

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 25 at 10:39am

TorahJew, Jan. 25 at 10:35am

Katie van Schaijik, Jan. 25 at 10:22am

One looks upon the material world, and even one's own human body, as nothing but raw material for human making and manufacturing, as if everything in nature receives its meaning from what man chooses to do with it.

Huh. This is exactly my position!

Then Prof. Crosby has a challenge for you.

I don't see it. Our assumptions are too far apart.

Very simplistically: a Jew harnesses all desires to achieve holiness. So we don't really have a problem with hunger, or lust, or materialism. We just want those things directed properly: eating should remind us of G-d's blessings; marital lust and love should be one and the same; materialism is wonderful if we use it to elevate G-d in the world (such as by having a beautiful Sabbath table).

We do NOT reject any of these desires, any more than we reject alcohol (for example).  All desires ideally are used to lead us to holiness.

#32 - Jan. 25 at 10:53am | quote

 

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