Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Ethics Heroes: The US Conference of Catholic Bishops’”

Socrates

We have a veritable Comment of the Day chain. Sarah B.’s COTD yesterday on the Ethics Alarms post applauding the U.S. Catholic Bishops for preparing to hold Joe Biden accountable for his open support of abortion had inspired two excellent questions, in sequence, from reader Curmie. Both were answered with brio by Ryan Harkins.

We’ve never had such a Socratic Comment of the Day exchange before, and maybe I should have a separate category for such delights, but I don’t. So I’ll just introduce this by saying, “Here is Curmie and Ryan Harkins collaborative Comment of the Day on the post,Comment Of The Day: ‘Ethics Heroes:The US Conference of Catholic Bishops.” (Curmie plays Socrates.)

Curmie: One question, or rather series of related questions, for Sarah B, from a long-lapsed Protestant:

As respects “grave matter,” is there an inherent element of volition in the act itself (it wasn’t an accident), and if so, is there a distinction between literally not knowing the sinfulness of an act (had no idea the Church forbids a certain action) and deciding for oneself that the act is innocent, despite Church doctrine? And, assuming any of these distinctions are relevant, are we talking about a disjunctive yes/no, or something along the lines of a continuum?

I’m thinking of the Ancient Greek and Shinto (to name two) concepts of pollution (as opposed to sin), and wondering if Catholicism is closer to the former than I had hitherto believed.
In a pollution-based theology, Oedipus is still guilty of incest despite his active attempt to avoid it. In today’s world, according to this idea, a driver who hits and kills a child who ran out into the street is still guilty, although the event was entirely accidental, and the driver did everything possible to avoid hitting the child.

Ryan Harkins: In backing up, the Catholic Church teaches that a sin is mortal if it meets three requirements: first, that it is grave matter; second that the sinner knows that it is grave matter; and third, that the sinner consents, or intends, to commit that act. Grave matter is grave because of the extent of damage it does, and this is regardless of intent. Killing someone is grave matter; they are just as dead if you didn’t intend for them to die. I think St. Paul encapsulates this idea in his letter to the Romans when he writes, “Sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses (Rom 5:13-14).” The point is that even though you don’t know that what you are doing is wrong, because the act itself is inherently wrong, it will still cause harm. So the gravity of an action is not a matter of volition.

Where volition enters the picture is in the second two conditions. A person might not know that an act constitutes grave matter, but this could either be an unintentional state, in which he is not culpable for his ignorance, or it could be willful ignorance on his part. One aspect of being Catholic is the assent to the Church as authoritative, infallible on matters of faith and morals. A Catholic then has an obligation not just to follow the Church’s instructions, but to learn what the Church actually instructs. This touches on what Sarah B was saying on primacy of conscience: we should follow our consciences, but we have a duty to properly form our consciences as well. On some matters where the Church has not made any official pronouncements, the faithful are allowed flexibility of opinions. But on many issues that are hot topics today, the Church has made pronouncements, and those are, as far as any Catholic is concerned, infallible and made so through the protection and guarantee of the Holy Spirit.

A Catholic does not evade culpability by concluding privately that an action the Church condemns is actually innocent. His rejection of Church authority would actually be itself grave matter, on the order of the great sin of the Devil, who said, “Non serviam.” The sin of pride has long been held as the father of all other sins. It is the sin by which we seek to supplant God as the arbiter of good and evil. For a Catholic, who ought to know that the Church claims infallibility on matters of faith and morals, to reject Church teaching, he either has to deny the Church, or he has to believe he has some higher authority than the Church.

As for whether we are speaking of a disjunctive or a continuum, my answer is both. When it comes down the end of the day, either you have committed a mortal sin or you haven’t. But because of the third condition for a sin to be mortal, the question of whether one actually committed a mortal sin can become murkier. Take an addict, for example. It is a sin of gluttony to engage in debilitating drug use. So the use of hardcore, recreational drugs like meth, cocaine, and heroin is grave matter. (The use of lesser drugs like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and a few others do not fall into this category because the impact of moderate use is not very large. Drugs that have practically no “moderate” dosage are the ones that would constitute to grave matter.) But an addict has lost a great deal of his capacity to resist temptation. As he tries to quit, his falling of the wagon and using is of lesser severity than someone taking those drugs the first time. As he progresses, and he regains control over his appetites, then his culpability in slipping up and using again increases.

So there can be debate over whether a sin was actually mortal, due to the degree in which a person consents to a wrong. If someone resists temptation for a long time, but is eventually worn out by the struggle, did he really consent when he finally gave into temptation? However, this line of questioning can be destructive. Overly scrupulous people can argue themselves into condemnation over the slightest of offenses, and any of the rest of us would really like to rationalize our sins into the venial category, given the opportunity.

Of course, any of this is tangential to the question of public support of abortion. On this the Church is very clear. Abortion is a grave evil, perpetuated against the most defenseless and the most innocent members of the human race. Any Catholic politician who advocates for expanding access to abortion is defending an intolerable evil, and any excuse of being personally opposed is insufficient. A politician is to be held to a higher standard in this regard than a private citizen because of his capacity to influence legislation one way or another. Since the Church has expressed all this, there should be no excuse for any Catholic politician.

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Ethics Heroes: The US Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bishops

It is unusual to call an organization’s decision to follow its own rules heroic, but I have low expectations of the Roman Catholic Church. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops voted 168-55 to draft a document on “Eucharistic coherence,” because the Church has been anything but coherent regarding the status of allegedly devout Catholics who support abortion.

Catholics are forbidden from participating in the ritual of the Eucharist if they are in a state of sin. Abortion is considered a very serious sin in the Catholic Church, which holds that life begins at conception. Thus a public figure, indeed an elected official, indeed a President, who openly supports abortion cannot take holy communion, because he is endorsing and enabling a serious sin. This isn’t hard. The much publicized “controversy” over the Bishops’ decision to follow their own Church’s ancient rules ( and those of the New Testament: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” — 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 ) resembles the current controversy in baseball over the MLB decision to enforce the hundred-year-old rule against pitchers doctoring the ball.

I know, everything reminds me of baseball, which has played a much greater role in my life than religion. But this is the same situation at its essence. The Catholic Church ducked, weaved and looked the other way while many U.S. politicians professed their belief in Catholicism as they openly and directly contradicted and actively undermined the Church’s core beliefs. They sought to have the benefit of appealing to the religious while simultaneously advocating a practice that their own Church condemns.

The New York Times—my wife keeps asking me why we pay 80 bucks a month for this shameless propaganda device, and I am running out of reasons—says that the Bishops’ vote is a “move to target a president, who regularly attends Mass and has spent a lifetime steeped in Christian rituals and practices, is striking coming from leaders of the president’s own faith, particularly after many conservative Catholics turned a blind eye to the sexual improprieties of former President Donald J. Trump because they supported his political agenda.”

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Predictable But Depressing: SCOTUS Agreeing To Consider What Is A Viable Unborn Child Triggers Emotional And Irrelevant Obfuscation From Pro-Abortion Propagandists

handmaidens

Gee, that was fast! All the Supreme Court did was agree to look at a part of 1973’s Roe v.Wade that has been rendered anachronistic by subsequent developments in science and medicine, and the pro-abortion lobby freaked out. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization involves the 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case raises the obviously relevant ethical, moral and legal question of when human life can be and should be subject to law’s protection. Roe, nearly a half century-old now, based its limits regarding when an abortion was a woman’s constitutional right on when an unborn child was “viable,” a word that requires a conclusion about when human life begins as well. It is not only reasonable but necessary for the court to clarify this. Question 1 in the petition for the writ of certiorari is “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.” Good question.

So why the freakout? Simple: neither side in the abortion debate has ever been willing to debate the issue fairly, as both ignore the obviously relevant rights and issues of one of the two human beings involved in the abortion equation. As Ethics Alarms has pointed out before and will continue to do until the stars turn cold, this is an ethics conflict, and a difficult one. Two strong ethical principles are opposing each other, both with major societal implications. In ethics conflicts, the ethical process of balancing is required, but neither side is willing to risk balancing regarding abortion. Thus both have conducted their side of the debate by dishonestly denying the existence of the ethical realities opposing the result they want. The anti-abortion advocates refuse to give fair weight to the effect an unwanted pregnancy can have on a woman’s life and future, and women’s legitimate interests in their own autonomy (which still may not be absolute.) Pro-abortion advocates deliberately ignore the fact, and it is a fact, that abortion involves the taking of human life.

This mutual dishonesty is reflected in the euphemisms the sides of the controversy use to obscure the real problem. “Pro Choice” makes it sound like the only issue is a woman’s autonomy ( Life? What life?). “Pro Life” wrongly cuts the interests of the women involved out of the balancing act. This is the reason the abortion debate has made no progress in a hundred years. The two sides are talking about two different things, and have neither the integrity nor the honesty to deal with the balancing problem.

Roe was a badly reasoned and irresponsibly issued ruling, authored by a serial SCOTUS mediocrity, Justice Harry Blackmun. Somehow, the opinion bootstrapped abortion into being a right under the “unenumerated” Constitutional right of privacy by analogizing it to birth control. But the case in which the Court rightly found that the State had no business telling couples that they could not engage in birth control didn’t involve killing anyone. I’d call that a material distinction.

Roe was one of the most breath-taking leaps of law and logic in the history of the Court, and a throbbing example of judicial activism run amuck. Nonetheless, it has been the law of the land long enough to be regarded as stare decisus; for good and practical reasons, over-ruling the entire case would be bad judicial policy. Addressing aspects of the opinion that were based on scientific assumptions no longer valid, however, is common sense, as well as sound legal policy.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/18/2021: Terrible Ideas, Past, Present, And Future


1. Gee, I’m surprised CNN didn’t give him Don Lemon’s old show…Over the weekend, Adeel Raja, a CNN contributor in Pakistan, tweeted, “The world today needs a Hitler.” Raja has repeatedly praised Hitler for trying to exterminate the Jews. During the Wold Cup in soccer, he said that he was rooting for Germany in the final against Argentina because “Hitler was a German and he did good with those jews!” (Actually, there may be more old Nazis in Argentina than Germany, but that’s quibbling.)

Last week’s tweet was deleted (Twitter did not suspend his account; after all, he’s not a Republican or President of the United States). Raja had 54 articles published under his byline at CNNbetween September 1, 2014, and September 15, 2020, all focusing on Pakistani news. CNN apparently didn’t mind relying on an open anti-Semite for news analysis until the latest tweet caused the issue to be raised.

After initially saying that it didn’t recognize Raja’s name, CNN released a statement that “he will not be working with CNN again in any capacity.”

2. The latest strategy in the Left’s plot to keep American masked forever. By “Left” I also mean “the news media,” since they are virtually identical. Digression: Judge Silberman’s brave and accurate confirmation of this provoked fear and horror among the AUC. I wrote about it here, but in case you missed it, here is his entire dissent in a recent libel case. He wrote in part,

“It should be borne in mind that the first step taken by any potential authoritarian or dictatorial regime is to gain control of communications, particularly the delivery of news. It is fair to conclude, therefore, that one-party control of the press and media is a threat to a viable democracy. “[The New York Times and the Washington Post ] are virtually Democratic Party broadsheets. And the news section of The Wall Street Journal leans in the same direction…Nearly all television—network and cable—is a Democratic Party trumpet.”

USA Today, a lesser trumpet to be sure, more like a kazoo, gave us this:

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Monday Ethics Final, 3/8/2021: A Bad Day In The Revolution

GnadenhuttenMassacre

March 8 should be a day that “lives in infamy,” but it isn’t, in part because of this nation’s, and all nations’, tendency to forget episodes in their history that they would rather pretend didn’t happen. On this date in 1782, 160 Pennsylvania militiamen slaughtered 96 Christian Indians including 39 children, 29 women and 28 men. The Patriots killed their captives by hammering their skulls with mallets from behind, as the victims knelt praying and singing. The Patriots then piled the bodies in mission buildings, and burned the entire Moravian Mission at Gnadenhutten to the ground in the Ohio territory. . The Pennsylvanians claimed that the attack was revenge for raids on their frontier settlements, but the Native Americans they killed were not involved in any attacks. In fact, they were pacifists who had been assisting the Americans against the British by serving as scouts and performing other services.

There were consequences of the massacre, though not to the criminals responsible. Despite talk of bringing the murderers to justice, no charges were filed. But Native American tribes became less willing to trust the Patriots as the Revolutionary War continued. When General George Washington heard about the massacre, he told his soldiers to avoid being captured alive by Indian forces, as he feared the Americans would be tortured. Many were, and Native Americans had longer memories of the atrocity at Gnadenhutten than the citizens of the new nation. In 1810, Shawnee chief Tecumseh pointedly reminded future General and later President William Henry Harrison, “You recall the time when the Jesus Indians of the Delawares lived near the Americans, and had confidence in their promises of friendship, and thought they were secure, yet the Americans murdered all the men, women, and children, even as they prayed to Jesus?”

Theodore Roosevelt, a historian in addition to his other pursuits, called the atrocity “a stain on frontier character that the lapse of time cannot wash away.”

But it has, hasn’t it?

1. And they said Trump supporters were stupid! A group called Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden feel betrayed:

Pro Biden

These people really believed that the Democratic Party was going to “engage” on the topic of abortion, and that electing Joe Biden President would lead to compromises and moderation on the issue. Let me write that again: These people really believed that the Democratic Party was going to “engage” on the topic of abortion, and that electing Joe Biden President would lead to compromises and moderation on the issue.As you know, I have constant difficulty accepting the principle that being stupid isn’t unethical. Outrageous stupidity makes me angry, and maybe that’s unfair. Episodes like this are difficult for me to put in perspective.

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A Powerful Anti-Abortion Message From A Disgraced And Cancelled Messenger

Back before it was all discarded to elect a serial harasser and accused rapist President, #MeToo saw to it that comic Louis C.K. was condemned to wander in the metaphorical wilderness for a particularly disgusting variety of harassment. He is indeed what is clinically defined as a “sick fuck,” but C.K. is intelligent and perceptive too. If anyone is listening, he is capable of conveying wisdom beyond “don’t masturbate in front of female colleagues who you have invited up to your hotel room.”

The clip above is from 2018, I think, when a post-cancellation Louis extolled in grand (if vulgar) terms the wonder of life, and how even the worst lives were a marvel. (The Thornton Wilder classic “Our Town” carries the same message, and I’m sure it is on the verge of being cancelled too, since it is about, yechh, white people. Actually it is about all people, but never mind, that won’t save it.)

And I found myself thinking, as I listened to C.K.’s routine on the radio yesterday by purest happenstance, how can anyone ethically deny life, this gift, this wonder, to another human being who would have it without outside interference, for any reason other than literal survival. Those invalid reasons include, “I have a legal right to do it,” as well as “that future life will interfere with my career,” and “it’s just not convenient right now.”

Was Today’s Women’s March In D.C. The Dumbest Protest Yet?

ProtestMarch

To be fair, it’s impossible to say. Almost all protests and demonstrations, even the ones that do not deteriorate into “mostly peaceful” riots, are silly, juvenile tantrums that cost money, waste time, inconvenience saner citizens and accomplish less than nothing. You can review the Ethics Alarms Protest Check-List: today’s mass scream by hysterical progressive women protesting the vote that hasn’t been cast in a case that doesn’t exist which would undo a SCOTUS decision that is  unlikely to be undone flunks on almost all points. Marcher Cherie Craft, a D.C. community organizer, told the Washington Post, “People think, you know, is this really making a difference?” Will it cause Judge Barrett not to be confirmed? Will it change the result of that so far imaginary abortion case that threatens Roe v. Wade? Will it make those who find abortion to be an ethical and moral abomination suddenly support abortion on demand?  No, no, and no. Might it cause some extra Wuhan virus cases that marchers will carry back to their states? Well, look at that photo above. I guess that’s something.

The hypocrisy of such an event while the mainstream media is attacking the President for so-called “super-spreader” events is palpable, and one of many reasons that there will be no effective shutdowns going forward. The pandemic hysterics, fascists and Democratic mayors—but I repeat myself– have no credibility. D.C. Muriel Bowser is being sued for banning outside church services, and yet allows this sardine-fest to go forward with her blessings.

Go ahead, rationalize that. Anyone. I dare you.

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Shameless Clickbait Or Frightening Evidence Of Late Stage Trump Derangement…Or Both?

The post is The Death Of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Pushed Me To Join The Satanic Temple.” Once upon a time headlines like this were cause for mirth when they appeared in the old National Enquirer or the World Weekly News. I think the best headline I ever saw—yes, even better than “Headless Corpse Found In Topless Bar“— was “Boy, 6, Gives Birth to Sextuplets.”

Still, this one is pretty special. The author says she is a lawyer, and she is clearly a lunatic, yet not that far removed from about half of my Facebook friends. Here are some of her statements…

 I am not the type of person who would normally consider becoming a Satanist, but these are not normal times. 

Rationalization #28, The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”! And the reason these are not normal times is because of hysterics like her…

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Mrs. Q’s Corner: Fetal Tissue Research And The Slippery Slope

by Frances Quaempts

[This, the latest installment of Mrs. Q’s Corner, responds to the discussion of the Trump Administration’s ban on fetal tissue research, and the issues raised in this post particularly.]

I know slippery slope arguments can be annoying, however we have seen, for example, how the years of race-baiting rhetoric that “all cops hate blacks” has led to the current madness. In that spirit I wonder, regarding this issue, just how far the commodification of unborn baby parts could go.

Once upon a time, child sacrifice in some societies was acceptable and even the rule. It would be nice to think we have evolved behaviorally to never entertain such horror, yet after seeing the way recently groups of teens and wild-eyed adults have chased and surrounded those they presume guilty of wrong-think, like jackels, could such barbarism make a comeback?

Could we justify using women to become “tissue-makers” if only they are compensated? Could we justify using the unborn for things like soda flavoring or hair products? Is that already happening? Could we jump from using the unborn to born but with defects or some other issue? Can we justify cannibalism as a means to “save the planet?” Is utilitarianism sometimes an excuse to rationalize the dehumanization of people in order to push through some grand and supposed ideal of humanity that isn’t even possible in a Star Trek episode? Will sacrificing a child or adult make the harvest plentiful when it has in the past?

The “downstream” issues that come up after supposed good ideas are well implemented can be the cause for even greater problems that generations have to deal with later. We have seen the good idea that women are equal turned into women degrading themselves in the name of a sexual revolution that mainly has benefited immature men.

We have seen how the good idea of fighting racism has led crowds to burn down the businesses of those most affected by racism. We have said the Red Scare was utterly without merit while Marxism has slowly poisoned our county using the arts, education, and media as a means for indoctrination.

Of course women should be equal, people of all races should thrive, and if someone wants to believe in some secular utopia where the proletariat magically rules the world, in this country they can. The downstream of it all is not simply the what of something or even the why, but the how. How do we avoid justifying dehumanization in the name of helping humanity? How do we use materials of any kind wisely and with respect? How do we check our unethical rationalizations so we don’t do more harm than good, no matter how utilitarian or beneficial the item or action is? Continue reading

A Response To “Comment Of The Day: ‘Ethics Escape, 8/24/2020: The Not Watching The GOP Convention Edition. Item #3, Fetal Research Ban'”

I promised a response to Chris Marschner’s provocative Comment Of The Day on Item #3 in the post, “Ethics Escape. 8/24/2020: The “Not Watching The GOP Convention” Edition. Here it is…

Chris begins,“Before I go any farther, I believe that fetal tissue is crucial to research.” That’s an excellent stipulation; I concur. Thus we agree that obtaining fetal tissue is beneficial, and an objective with positive value for society.

That leaves as the sole issue for ethical debate as whether using the source of such tissue creates such a counterbalancing negative effect that the positive effect, which has been conceded, is overcome and rendered moot.

Chris says he “can see an argument in favor of the Board’s decision to deny access to such tissues.” I can see the arguments; I wouldn’t make the arguments. I’m assuming Chris not only sees them but agrees with them to some extent. Chris goes on,

I may agree with Turley that such research use of fetal tissue does not incentivize women to have abortions. However ,I do believe it incentivizes sellers of such tissues. Such sales make a commodity of aborted fetal tissues and the of other human tissue donations; this is not some far-fetched fear. Do we want to be like China, which forcibly removes kidneys so that others can have a transplant?

I don’t think “may” is reasonable here. Professor Turley states unequivocally that women do not have abortions to harvest fetal tissue, and while it is impossible to prove a negative, there is literally no evidence that indicates this is a problem. Hospitals sell medical waste, including organs for transplant. Chris’s logict applies with equal force to all things removed from patients, who have a right to deny the medical institution from selling it or using them themselves. The patients, by law, cannot sell their tissues and organs themselves, however, and few choose to take the items home as souvenirs. Almost all the time, patients let health care providers dispose of such things as they see fit, and why wouldn’t they?

The “Coma” scenario, where doctors intentionally kill patients to harvest and profit from their organs, has been around for decades, (The Robin Cook novel was written in 1973.) It just hasn’t materialized, and in the case of fetal tissue, nobody would be killed, in the eyes of the law, if medical professionals were selling it as profit center. The argument is a straw man, a separate theoretical problem related to the issue being discussed, but not strictly relevant. In this it is like the anti-cloning debate. Opponents of cloning worry about how the technology might be abused, but that’s a downstream issue. There is nothing inherently unethical about cloning, just as there is nothing inherently unethical about using fetal tissue for research. If unethical practices emerge, you deal with them directly, not by eliminating the otherwise neutral or beneficial process that creates the opportunity for abuse.

Chris:

Imagine a society that becomes insensitive to the concept of the sanctity of life. It is not outside the realm of possibility that we could begin to allow doctors to withhold life saving but costly treatments in order hasten the demise of a potential donor.

The first sentence is irrelevant in the context of this discussion  because, via Roe v. Wade, the law of the land does not acknowledge fetuses as human life. I think Roe was and is a terrible decision; I am certain that the pro-abortion position that unborn children are like warts or parasites is intellectually dishonest and a belief made necessary by the political objective of abortion access rather than justified by reality, but that doesn’t matter. The U.S. position isn’t insensitive to the sanctity of human life because society and the culture, through the courts, have absorbed the legal fiction that fetuses are not human life. If and when that fiction is rejected—personally, I don’t foresee it happening—then the sanctity of life issue becomes relevant. As for the rest of Chris’s statement: that is happening already, thanks in part to the costs of treatment and the limits of insurance.

I won’t say that doctors pressuring a family to take a brain-dead loved one off of life support because a 17-year old woman needs a heart and lung transplant stat is unethical. It theoretically violates Kant’s Categorical Imperative, but Kant wasn’t considering brain dead patients before such patients could be kept alive. This is when Utilitarian balancing is called for. “Are we willing to let doctors or insurers make that call to take the patient off the vent so he can become a heart donor? I certainly hope not, ” Chris asks. Well, we don’t, and shouldn’t, but the input of those not emotionally involved in the decision is valuable.

Chris continues, Continue reading