Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘SCOTUS: There is No Right To Be Executed Painlessly'”

Hayes and Komisarjevky, the Cheshire, Conn. killers

Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day on my post about the recent SCOTUS capital punishment opinion spawned another COTD. The immediate catalyst was my answer, within the post, to Steve’s query about what crimes I think warrant executions. One of my answers referenced the Cheshire, Connecticut home invasion and murders, which I wrote about extensively here.

Here is Rich in Ct’s Comment of the Day on the post,Comment Of The Day: “SCOTUS: There is No Right To Be Executed Painlessly”:“SCOTUS: There is No Right To Be Executed Painlessly”:

“The Cheshire, Conn. murders.” This is the crime that broke my opinion of the death penalty. I was initially ultra-liberal on this issue, thinking that the death penalty was just not acceptable today, but moderated considerably.

My initial view was a rather unexamined belief, essentially unchanged from what I had expressed in a middle school essay a few years before the home invasion. In that middle school essay, I decried the state of Connecticut for “murdering” Michael Ross, a jolly good chap who killed 8 souls before the age of 24. (Stipulated, even in middle school, I conceded wooden jails of the Wild West, etc, could not reliably contain dangerous individuals, necessitating the death penalty.)

My main argument was that killing was WRONG. This was axiomatic, not allowing counter argument. The only mitigating factor for execution, the need to protect the public, was adequately addressed with modern maximum-security prisons.

Ross was the last criminal successfully executed by Connecticut, making the opportunities to reflect on an actual case study vanishingly rare. However, Connecticut had several placed on its death rolls, each hopelessly tied up in appeals (mostly by design). A distressing number of capital indictments came from prosecutors in Waterbury, the major city in northwestern part of the state. Waterbury has a unique reputation for corruption second to none (in a state with Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport, mind you); disgraced ex-governor Rowland was employed by the city when he was released from prison. Continue reading

I’m Curious: Do Women—Any Women, A Lot Of Women, Adult Women, Rational Women—Think This Times Column Makes Sense? (Because It Doesn’t)

Jerry Richardson (above), the 81-year-old original owner of the Carolina Panthers in the NFL,  has decided that rather than ride out the sexual harassment allegations  recently reported  by Sports Illustrated, the wisest (and most lucrative course) will be to sell the team after this season. His profit will be somewhere in the billions, not that he isn’t a billionaire already.

New York Times sportswriter Juliet Macur is grievously offended by this, writing,

“Here’s what would make more sense: For Richardson to announce that the proceeds of the sale — or even just a couple hundred million? — would be donated to the women he harassed…[Many men] have been chased from the top of their professions for disgusting behavior involving women they worked with. They are suddenly pariahs, their reputations destroyed. But they remain very rich men, and their families, for generations, will be able to live off the financial rewards they collected while perpetuating these offenses….Richardson, who made his fortune in the fast-food industry, might be the richest of all the men accused in the #MeToo movement so far. Perhaps it’s appropriate, in a legal sense, that he is able to sell his company and walk off the stage. But it doesn’t seem morally fair that he should benefit so richly from it.”

This is pure, unadulterated emotionalism and indignation unfiltered by thought or coherent societal values. If these are the kinds of ethical arguments—and it is an ethical argument–major information sources are going to publish as worthy of being injected into public discourse, we might as well tear up the laws, forswear ethical systems, embrace passion, anger, vengeance and the rest as our sole tools to govern human affairs, and resign ourselves to chaos. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/11/2017: Boston, Racism, Morality And The Media’s Continuing Conspiracy

Good Morning!

1 That’s my town! Spotlight, the Boston Globe investigative team that was the focus of the Academy Award-winning film about its crucial role in exposing the  Catholic Church’s child-molestation scandal, has published the results of an investigation into racism in Boston. Nobody who lives in Boston or did for any length of time (like me) can find that the conclusion of the Spotlight team qualifies as news: Boston is an overwhelmingly white city—the whitest of all the major metropolitan areas—which may have softened its traditional hostility to African Americans, but that so far hasn’t changed the impression among its black residents that they are outsiders, and tolerated rather than welcome.

I love Boston, and would move back there in a heartbeat if it didn’t mean uprooting my life in unpleasant ways. The report, however, is depressing, for that ironic feature of the city was a blight on it when I lived there, and decades have failed to change it significantly.

2. Not “Morality Alarms”. Let me stick this in quickly.

A commenter on the most recent Comment of the Day on the Masterpiece Cakeshop controversy sent in a defense of the baker’s conduct based on Scripture. I stated,

I dismiss this argument out of hand.

2000 year old biases are now called ignorance. They can be justified as of their time, but pretending nothing has changed since then is indefensible and willfully obtuse. The taboos against homosexuality were a matter of common sense when procreation was essential to a tribe’s survival. Before there was psychological research and knowledge of brain chemistry, ignorance about homosexuality was excusable, and even natural. 2000 years is a long time. There is no excuse for pretending that it isn’t, that human beings haven’t learned, that knowledge hasn’t expanded, and that ancient texts are not often dangerously and cruelly out of date.

In two follow-up comments I wrote, stitching them together,

That’s not reasoning or argument, and this blog is about ethics (what’s right?) not morality (what does God say is right?)…At some point discrimination and prejudice is still discrimination and prejudice. “The Bible says I should be prejudiced” is better, sort of, than “I just hate these people,” but it also is a cover.

Needless to say, an argument that relies entirely on the Bible is just an appeal to authority. That’s not a reasoned argument, but a declaration. Nor is it possible to argue with God, who works in mysterious ways, meaning that “but that makes no sense!” doesn’t work.

This isn’t a morality blog, and never has been. Simple as that. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Headline Of The Month: ‘Vatican: The Body of Christ Is Not Gluten Free”‘

The original Ethics Alarms post, one of two this month implicitly critical of the Catholic Church, has spawned several remarkable and thoughtful discussions, as well as so many candidates for Comment of The Day that any choice among them is somewhat arbitrary. In the case of Ryan Harkins, I’m not even certain this is the best of his comments on the post, so many excellent ones did I have to choose from. Thus I urge readers to read the entire array, which, I regret to say, is impressive and educational even though it does not include my old friend Patrice, Catholic, theologian, and Church employee who has commented here frequently in the past.

I decided to pair two of Ryan’s comments, the first an overview providing context for my original post’s topic, the Church’s insistence that that the bread and wafers used in Communion include gluten. The second, a response to a series of queries from another commenter, delves into an eternal ethics debate topic, the nexus between God and ethics.

Here is Ryan Harkins’ Dual Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Headline Of The Month: “Vatican: The Body of Christ Is Not Gluten Free”

I.

Where to begin? The challenge of trying to explain some of the odder details of the Catholic faith is that many of those details don’t make sense without the context of the faith as a whole. So please forgive me if I seem to natter on about tangential matters.

So, let’s begin with a few definitions to make discussion a little easier. A Sacrament is a visible sign, established by Jesus himself, through which God conveys grace upon mankind. A Sacrament is composed of two parts, one spiritual and one material. The reason it possess both qualities is because Sacraments are designed for us, and a human person is a body/spirit composite. We are not purely material beings, nor are we ghosts in a shell. We are not a complete person without our bodies. Now, to have a sign that is purely spiritual would neglect the physical aspect of our existence. To have a sign that is purely physical would neglect the spiritual dimension of our existence.

The Eucharist is one of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. Catholics really, truly believe Jesus was serious when he said repeatedly, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have eternal life.” When at the Last Supper, he blesses bread and wine and says, “Take this and eat. This is my body, given for you” and “This is the cup of my blood, which will be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”, Catholics believe that yes, Jesus truly held himself in his hands and gave himself to his apostles to consume. So the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus, the fullness of his body, blood, soul, and divinity. When a priest says Mass and confects the Eucharist, Catholics believe that the bread and wine on the altar are transsubstantiated into Jesus. The accidents of bread and wine remain (so yes, consuming Jesus is problematic for anyone who has issues with the accidents of bread and wine), but the substance is entirely Jesus. The smallest drop from the chalice and the tiniest crumb of the loaf contains the fullness of Jesus.

Okay, so a Sacrament has a spiritual and a physical dimension, and the Eucharist obviously uses bread and wine for the physical dimension. Why bread and wine? In just reference to food and drink, we understand the Eucharist as a meal, and historically the greatest communal activity is the sharing together of a meal. In earliest Christianity, the Eucharistic celebration was in the context of the agape feasts, which eventually St. Paul instructed to tone down because people would become drunk and riotous at these feasts. The point, though, is that eating together is sign of communion (which is in part why the Eucharist is also called Communion). Jesus had prayed that “they may all be one, Father, as I am in you and you are in me,” and the Eucharist is the Sacrament Jesus instituted to make that possible. By consuming Jesus himself, we bring him into ourselves and are in turn incorporated into him. (You are what you eat, right?) Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Day: President Calvin Coolidge

“About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.”

—President Calvin Coolidge

For no particular reason, this is the third post in less than 24 hours to reference Silent Cal. As this speech, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, shows, Cal wasn’t so silent, and when he has something to say, he was often worth listening to. Coolidge’s reflections are thoughtful and characteristic.  His ultimate point is that the document is rooted in spirituality and morality, which is to say that it is virtuous and right. Morality, along with religion, has been in steep decline in the public square, academia and in the culture since 1926, but Coolidge’s argument is no less valid and persuasive if transferred to the realm of ethics. Though they were, as Coolidge says, guided by their understanding of religious principles, the Founders were also students of philosophy and ethical analysis. The Declaration, the Constitution and the United States of America are all the offspring of ethics, as well as morality.

Here and below is the whole speech. (Pointer, and gratitude, to Instapundit) Continue reading

Does The Naked Teacher Principle Apply To A Porn Star Teacher Whose Students Don’t Know What Porn Is?

The Ethics Alarms Naked Teacher Principle states:

A secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result.

Various discussions  f the NTP can be found here. [The original post on the topic is on the old Ethics Scoreboard, which is down at the moment thanks to an incompetent web hosting operation. It will be back soon, or there will be blood….]

Now we have the borderline case of a kindergarten teacher—that’s primary school, not secondary school—who is a proud porn performer as a second occupation.

Nina Skye is a preschool teacher at a religious school in Los Angeles and decided to go public—with Fox News, of all places—with her secret double life moonlighting in the adult film industry.

“I love teaching. I love sex. If I can get away with doing both, then I will,” Nina says. “I know what I’m doing when it comes to teaching, I’m a really good teacher.”  On the other hand, “It’s easy money. For my very first scene, I just did a regular boy on girl and I got paid $2,500 on the spot.”

Skye’s explanation about why she is revealing her passion at the risk of her teaching? “I guess some people are really tied by that moral code, ” she says.  “There’s a really big stigma associated with it, and how our society views it, but that’s not how I am… I’m really open-minded. Super open-minded and not judgemental.” Continue reading

“The Keepers,” The Catholic Church, And Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

I began watching Netflix’s new “true crime” series “The Keepers” last night. I may not last through all seven episodes. In addition to the documentary story-telling methodology, which moves at the pace of a slug-race, the story of how unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun might  be part of  (yet another) horrific cover-up by the Catholic Church made me so angry and frustrated that I quit in the middle of the third episode. The series makes the case that the nun, Sister Catherine “Cathy” Cesnik, was killed because she was about  to reveal ongoing sexual abuse of young teenage girls by the priest running the Archbishop Keough High School for girls.

The abuse and the extent of it is not speculation. As in so many other places, the Catholic Church in Baltimore eventually paid millions in damages to multiple victims of multiple predator priests who the Church moved around the  region—so they could molest and assault new victims—rather than handing them over to law enforcement. It is hard to imagine any priest worse than Father Joseph Maskell, however, if even some of the allegations against him are true. Victims say he used student files and illicit police connections to target teenage girls who were already being sexually abused. He manipulated them using a sick combination of religion, guilt, hypnotism and intimidation, sexually abused them, and even delivered some over to members of the Baltimore police department for more abuse.

The documentary focuses on the school’s Class of ’69, though there must have been equally abused girls before and after. The conspiracy of silence began to crack in 1992, when an especially  victimized member of the class suddenly realized that she had repressed memories of horrible experiences, and finally complained to the Baltimore Archdiocese, setting off the kind of despicable Church defensive strategies too familiar to anyone who has seen “Spotlight.”

This documentary isn’t good for my state of mind. It makes me wonder not only if all is lost, but also if all wasn’t lost long ago. I was raised in a largely Catholic community. I am not religious, but as an ethicist I recognize the important, civilizing role religion has played in teaching and enforcing moral principles for the majority of the public for whom ethical analysis is too challenging. Episodes like the Father Maskell scandal raise questions that I rebuke myself for asking, like “How can this be?” “Jane Doe,” the star witness in the documentary, is still a devout Catholic. Her immediate response to every dilemma is to pray. I don’t get it. She was savaged, threatened and abused by a priest that she knows the Church allowed to prey on the vulnerable students entrusted to him. Why would she still trust the Catholic Church?

Why would anyone? Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Quiz: Is This Question Easy?”

I intensely disagree with some of this comment regarding illegal immigration and the laws surrounding it, but it is still thoughtful and provocative. I’ll be back at the end.

Here is slickwilly’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Quiz: Is This Question Easy?”

“But sometimes the law itself is evil.

Agreed, and a good observation. Laws are made by men, many times men with hidden agendas who stand to profit from those laws. What I think Glenn is getting at is that ‘illegal’ is seen as equal to ‘immoral,’ which many equate with ‘bad.’ Is it immoral to disobey a law? In the strict sense, by the definitions involved, I think so. In practice, I am not so certain. What if the ‘law’ is written by an un-elected bureaucrat who has no effective over site from lawful entities? When petty rules have the enforcement power of law, democracy falls into tyranny.

Of course, immigration laws are a necessary evil. We have to have them. But we need to get more serious about whether the ones we have now are ethical, sensible, and productive.

Many of the laws we have now benefit those in power, or those who paid them to make the law a certain way. This is generally bad for everybody else, taken as a whole. Immigration laws do not punish those who create the situation for corporate (and private) greed, and even when they do provide punishment for such as these they are not enforced. The first thing that must change is that this class starts suffering for their crimes by lawful enforcement and new laws to address that situation.

I will agree that MOST immigration laws (including ‘how one becomes a legal resident’) are unethical, nonsensible, and unproductive. To those, I will add unfair to all involved but those that crafted them. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “The Equal Voices Apology To LGBT Individuals”

I must admit, when my head topic scout Fred flagged the Equal Voices apology for the antipathy toward LGTB (or is it LBTG? Does it matter, if the letters still stand for the same things?) engendered by organized religion, I didn’t expect it to be controversial. As the comments revealed in due course, it was. Looking back deep into Ethics Alarms posts and even into the foggy past of the Ethics Scoreboard, I have tried to clarify the distinction between the moral rejection of homosexuality by those who are faithfully following a religion that still holds to ancient taboos, and those whose attitudes toward gays are rooted in irrational fear, gate and bigotry. Ethically, however, the distinction became hard to jutify. The harm is palpable, and the facts are clear. The religious tended to embrace false facts (no, homosexuals do not indoctrinate heterosexual children; no, same sex marriage does not threaten Western civilization; yes, gays are a likely to be decent, law-abiding, ethical people as anyone else) to avoid doubting their faith; the bigoted and hateful frequently used religion to justify their bigotry.  The Equal Voices apology, I believe, is just one more positive step towards full cultural acceptance of the sad truth that the treatment of gays was a mistake, based in ignorance, and no longer defensible on religious or any other grounds. Ethics evolves when morality does not; that’s what’s good, and unsettling, about ethics. Things we thought were right turn out to be wrong, and vice-versa. There’s no shame in that, unless one denies what is right in front of one’s face.

Now comes veteran Ethics Alarms commenter Pennagain with a general commentary sparked by the post, focusing not on LGBT bias but bias against the religious and irreligious.

Here is his Comment of the Day, on the post, The Equal Voices Apology To LGBT Individuals: Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus Desmond Doss, And “Hacksaw Ridge,”

desmond-doss

Desmond Doss, who died on March 23, 2006 at the age of 87,  was the very first hero to be enshrined in the Ethics Alarms Hall of Heroes. I wrote about him before there was an Ethics Alarms, shortly after he died.  I had never heard of Doss before, and I remember being angry that I had never heard of him. Everyone should know about him. There literally are no Americans who were any more heroic, and whose ethical conduct was any more astounding, than Desmond Doss.

If the values of this nation, and especially Hollywood, were healthy and correctly aligned, he would be a household name, and the film about his World War II heroism would have been made long ago. Finally “Hacksaw Ridge” was produced in 2016, and has been nominated for an Academy Award, although it will never win.

When I first read about Doss, I couldn’t get my mind around what he had done to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only conscientious objector ever to achieve that honor during combat. During the battle of Okinawa, we were told that he survived heavy enemy fire as he struggled to carry seventy-five wounded soldiers to the sheer cliff at Hacksaw Ridge, personally picking up each one and lowering them over the edge the cliff 400 feet to safety.   How is that possible? Now that I’ve seen the film, it still seems impossible.

Desmond Doss proved that principled opposition to violence against his fellow human beings need  not be based on fear, self-interest or self-preservation. It is often impossible to tell whether those who oppose armed combat really object to the spilling of all human blood in battle, or only their own. With Desmond Doss, there was never any doubt. He didn’t like the term “conscientious objector,” preferring the term “conscientious cooperator.” He enlisted in the army following Pearl Harbor, believing that the war against the Axis had to be fought and wanted to be part of the war effort despite believing, as a devout a Seventh Day Adventist, that it was a sin to kill, with no exceptions. Thus he refused to carry a rifle (or shoot one, even in training) but yet insisted that he be involved in combat as a battlefield medic. He achieved conscientious objector status  but would hot accept a deferment. Assigned to the 307th Infantry Division as a company medic, Doss was hazed, abused and  ridiculed  for his dedication to non-violence, and as the Mel Gibson-directed film shows, many of his tormentors eventually owed their lives to his astonishing heroism. All of his compatriots were amazed by his evident fearlessness under fire and remarkable dedication to duty, never hesitating to go after a wounded soldier no matter what the personal risk. As a combat medic on Guam and at Leyte in the Philippines, Doss had already been awarded the Bronze Star  before the three-day battle at Hacksaw Ridge.

Many of the soldiers in Doss’s 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division were driven off the ridge by a furious Japanese counter-attack, and  wounded G.I.s were stranded atop it. Doss remained with the wounded, and, according to his Medal of Honor citation refused to seek cover, carrying them, one by one, to the edge of the ridge in the face of enemy fire, some of them from behind enemy lines. He lowered each man on a rope-supported litter he improvised on the spot, using double bowline knots he had learned as a youngster and tying the makeshift litter to a tree stump to serve as an anchor. Every wounded man was lowered to a safe spot 35 feet below the ridge top by the 145 pound medic. Finally, Doss came down the ridge himself, incredibly, unharmed. Continue reading