Further Thoughts on Abortion Arguments

A few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts on a few arguments in favor of abortion which I considered to be less than successful. My post was directed specifically to an article by a Mr. Babinski. Babinski kindly responded to my post and then sent me a lengthy counter. That counter will be posted in full throughout the present article. I will divide it into short sections and respond to each in turn. As a preemptive note, Mr. Babinski references several times (when he uses numbers) one of my comments on the previous post. To get a full sense of our discussion, see those comments.

Before I begin, I must reiterate what I explicitly stated in my first post: I was not in that post, nor am I in this post, arguing that abortion is wrong. I certainly believe that, but I’m not arguing specifically for it here. Nor am I making a positive pro-life case. The intention of my previous post was merely to argue that certain types of arguments, which I examined in that post, are either poor or irrelevant in relation to a pro-abortion case, because they simply confuse, mistake, or ignore what is the central and fundamental issue in the abortion debate. Continue reading

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Thoughts on Abortion Arguments

Right now, we exist in an extremely politically divided and tension filled time; and I certainly do not in any way wish to add to this. As such, I am very much hesitant about posting on this or related topics. But since several questions were brought to me personally, I thought it might be appropriate to respond. Before I do so, however, I need to make fully clear my intentions in this post:

  1. In this post, I am not attempting to mount a positive argument in support of any sort of pro-life or anti-abortion ethical/political stance. I am both of those things, but I am not arguing positively for them here. Since I have not yet written much at all about ethics, I do not yet have a sufficient foundation for doing so
  2. In this post, I am also not arguing against any general pro-choice or pro-abortion stance. I will be arguing against some specific pro-choice arguments, as will be qualified below, but am not universally asserting opposition to all pro-choice and pro-abortion stances as such (again, I am opposed to these things, but am not here trying to argue against them generally).
  3. In this post, I am responding to several anti pro-life arguments and arguments in favor for choice/abortion. I am responding to these specific arguments here because they were presented to me personally, and because I happen to think they are very poor arguments that entirely miss the point of the debate. There may be serious arguments in favor of a pro-choice stance, but, I contend, the arguments I’m considering here very much are not. So if you personally do not think abortion is morally wrong or are in favor of a pro-choice stance, please do not consider this post a general opposition to your views. I respect your position and would gladly hold a more extended conversation about such.
  4. I am not assuming here the truth of or commitment to any religious traditions or associated beliefs. In other words, I will not be arguing on the basis of any religious beliefs. I will be arguing entirely on the basis of my own purely philosophical commitments.

So, with these preliminary notes having been established, we can begin. Continue reading

Christmas: To the End of the Way of the Wandering Star

Behold our universe: the horizons of which we cannot perceive, the intricacies of which we cannot plumb. The entire cosmos dances to some profound, utterly divine melody; it dances and it sings along in the harmonious chorus of existence. The stars shout the glory of light and warmth. The planets circle their suns, pulled in by their radiant beauty. The very atoms and molecules, the stones from which this majestic palace of the universe was crafted, sway with the winds of an eternal breath. All beings ordered to their time and place and way, all things directed to their specific ends, all in jubilant obedience to their Maker and Sustainer.

The galaxies shout praises to the Creator in their fiery exultation. The planets sing hymns of laud to their God and King as they sweep from one end of the solar system to the next. The oceans roar, the mountains rise, the birds soar and fish dive, the creatures saunter and crawl, all to the glory of the Lord.

And yet all these beings, though the very innermost depth of their being flows directly from, and is constantly directed to, God as their Creator and Sustainer, the First Cause and Final End of all things, this is done in them without conscious knowledge, an open awareness of both their internal selves and the external world. In all of creation, this privileged position of knowledge has been granted to mankind. And with this honorable position comes immense duty.

A duty which we have squandered.

All of creation succeeds in that every being therein is itself, exists as itself, as it was meant to, and fulfills its intrinsic ends/purposes. This is the ultimate duty of all beings: to be itself, as it was so designed and intended by the Divine Craftsman. It is the duty of all stars to shine, the duty of all planets to orbit, the duty of all trees to grow and bear fruit, the duty of all bees to buzz and pollenate and produce honey, the duty of all ants to crawl and march and build and protect their queen, the duty of all mice to scurry and squeak, the duty of all birds to flap wings and fly, the duty of all waves to crash upon the shore. All these beings, down to the most minuscule of subatomic particles, all have their purpose, all have their duty, and in ordered obedience to this duty they glorify God in their very being.

And of all creation, humans alone were granted the gift of knowing their own existence, knowing their own duty and purpose, and, ultimately, thereby knowing their Creator and Sustainer. This knowledge and will are the distinctive human gifts. It is the duty of man to know God, the duty of man to will the good in obedience to God. All other beings enact their existential dramas and fulfill their duties unconsciously, automatically, without choice or awareness. Human beings were given the opportunity to do so fully consciously, freely, with knowledge. And thus human beings alone were given the opportunity of the ultimate good and happiness and joy of all existing things: the Beatific Vision, conscious experience of and union with the Divine Reality. To know God as God.

It was the duty of man to know God and to consciously glorify God to and for all creation. We, as rational animals, as immortal souls in mortal flesh, were meant to be the ambassadors between God and creation. On this very speck of death, mankind was meant to be the mouth from which all creation could pour forth the wondrous joy it held inside, the ecstatic delight of its own mystical existence.

Placed as such above all creation, to lift all creation to God, how disastrous then becomes our fall! For in thus falling, we become actually the lowest of all creatures, lower than all other beings in creation. For all other beings in the entire universe are themselves, are what they were truly meant to be; and in falling, humanity fails to be humanity. Humanity fails to be what we were meant to be. In falling, humans don’t just become something less than human–we become something less than creation itself. For creation in its very essence is good, the gift of existence flowing from Divine Source. But in our fall, mankind rebelled against this divine gift of existence. We chose to be something other than what we are, because to be what we truly are would require the one thing for which we were made: obedience to the Divine Will. How easy for a bird to fulfill the Divine Command to chirp! But what great burden for man, with his own knowledge and will, to submit that will to Another.

Evil, essentially, is disordered existence. Evil is the lack of Goodness which is humanity being as it is meant to be. Evil is humanity failing to be truly human. Evil is man being less than man.

Imagine the horror if the stars rebelled and refused to shine! Imagine the tragedy if the particles and atoms and molecules all rebelled, and refused to join in their chemical community to produce our cosmos! So how terrible, how monstrous, how dark, how absurd it is, for man to rebel and refuse to be man! The wondrous song and dance of creation suddenly was thrown out of tune into a horrid tension. The humans fought and killed each other, they were angry and sorrowful and wretched and lustful and prideful and selfish and hateful, the exact opposite of what they had been meant to be. They created societies and civilizations, driven by greed and fear, ruled by oppression and injustice. They fought wars and enslaved fellow men. They tore at the earth and at each other.

And so how infinitely, overwhelmingly profound is it, that God should save man by not refusing to be man, by Himself becoming man to teach us how to be man! Jesus Christ, the God-man, was the first truly and fully human person in the history of our race. He was the second Adam, who overcame our broken nature, to restore our ruined flesh. When we look to Christ, we see God. But equally as true: when we look to Christ, we see humanity, as it was truly meant to be. The wonder of the Incarnation is not just Divine; it is also human.

How incomprehensible that which God accomplished in Christ! Human reason cannot capture Him, and yet a manger held Him. Human hands cannot reach Him, and yet a mother swaddled Him. The human mind cannot contain Him, and yet our lowly planet enclosed Him. Death cannot touch Him, and yet nails pinned Him to a cross.

St. Irenaus wrote: “Gloria Dei est vivens homo.” The Glory of God is living man. Christ was the first and true living man, the man who fulfilled the duty of men and thus completed the purpose of all creation. The man who tasted and defeated death, so that all men can become living men.

G. K. Chesterton wrote this beautiful poem, The House of Christmas:

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home [1].

Much could be said about these words, but that line towards the end specifically stuck out: “To the end of the way of the wandering star”. It’s referring, of course, to the star of Bethlehem, which guided many to see Christ. But in another sense, I think we could say that planet earth is the wandering star, the star which went rogue, the lone star of all stars in all the heavens which abandoned its way and fell from its light and life. And Christ is thus the end of the way of the wandering star. In Christ, our wandering is over; our Home is found.

And now my own, original Christmas poem:

Lo, the dawn! The sun doth shine

Upon hills blanketed in snow,

And all creation, sprung from Divine

Rises forth, from darkness low.

Glistening horizon, wreathed in flame

Marches onward in triumphant shout;

Come to bring light and day back again

Come to water our souls so long in drought.

The snow, the leaves, all do shine!

For light of sun in infinite fullness

Cannot but share its Glory Divine

To pour out from indivisible wholeness.

Lo, the Dawn, birthed from woman!

In a manger the Sun doth lay;

For in Christ, God made man,

The night can ne’er stand up to day!

To the end of the way of the wandering star,

On this rebel planet, in Bethlehem,

Immanuel, God with us, He is not far!

All death and darkness conquered by the Lamb!

 

Notes

[1]. Chesterton poem found online here: http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/GK_Chesterton_House_of_Christmas.shtml

 

 

Aquinas on Incarnation and Christmas

The ultimate mystery and meaning of Christmas, and really the entire Christian faith, is the Incarnation. It is the very heart of all Christian creeds. But it is, in its beautiful, wondrous depth, unfathomable to finite minds. What impenetrable profundity, to say that God became man, that the Divine Reality took on flesh!

Such a feat would not be really so problematic in many mythologies/theologies. Just read through the literature of many ancient myths, and you’ll see that the gods are understood really as just “glorified” (in a very ironic sense) humans–immortal, much more powerful, but in essence still all too human. These gods, in effect, differ from mankind merely by degree. They are “higher on the scale” in terms of qualities.

But nothing could be more different from the belief of Classical Theism, which holds God to be not just another being amongst all beings, with a little more power, or even a “higher” being; but rather Being Itself, Existence Itself, Pure Actuality, Goodness Itself, etc. That in whom Essence and Existence are identical, totally simple (no metaphysical composition), completely and totally unchanging and unchangeable, absolutely no passive potencies, qualitatively infinite in power and goodness and knowledge, entirely immaterial, incorporeal, impassible, not able to suffer or be affected externally. This is the God, acknowledged in the Jewish and Muslim faiths as well, but who the Christian faith alone of all traditions has declared became a human being, like us, to walk among us, live beside us, and die for us.

But how, in a metaphysical sense, is this even possible? How can something that by its very nature is Pure Act, Being Itself, immutable, impassible, immaterial, and infinite, become something finite, material and physical, changeable, a being among beings, composite of act and potency? In short, how is the Incarnation not a total contradiction in terms? Continue reading

Advent and the Silence of God

*Note: this post contains spoilers for the book/movie “Silence”.

Last week, I finished Shusaku Endo’s  highly acclaimed 1966 novel “Silence”, the long expected movie of which is being released next month (see the trailer here). The book was fantastic–beautifully written, hauntingly profound, and deeply thought provoking. I’m not going to discuss too much of the actual plot here, since I highly recommend reading/seeing it for yourself. Rather I want to consider perhaps the central thematic point of the story: the silence of God (thus the book’s title).

Throughout the novel, as the characters experience extreme hardships, difficulties, and suffering, often times as a direct result of their Christian faith, they are left to wonder: where is God? Where is the God in whom they have placed their trust and hope? Where is the God for whom they are currently offering their lives, having given up everything for the sake of the Gospel? Where is the God who all their lives they have been told is loving, who is supposed to care for His people, who has commanded prayer and promised to answer? Where is this God?

But they are met only with silence. Continue reading

Chesterton and Aquinas on Thanksgiving

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude”, wrote G. K. Chesterton [1]. Chesterton was one who understood both the gravity and the soaring joy of thankfulness. Gravity because giving thanks strikes at the very heart of what it means to be fully human; joy because giving thanks is necessary for being truly happy. In fact, giving thanks is perhaps one of the simplest and most certain ways to produce real happiness.

To see this twofold nature of understanding gratitude, consider these further Chesterton quotes. First, the seriousness of gratitude:

“The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them” [2].

The very aim of life is appreciation? If we understand appreciation as recognizing, enjoying, and properly responding to the good in something, then yes, absolutely appreciation is the aim of life. For the very purpose of mankind’s existence is to know God and to seek God as his ultimate end. And this includes love and obedience to God, which in so doing cultivates virtue within us, and from virtue flows true flourishing and happiness as human beings. Appreciation involves finding the good in things, in everything, and God just is the good of everything, since He is The Good Itself. God is man’s beatitude. And everything is good inasmuch as it flows from and is directed towards fulfillment in God. Recognizing, enjoying, and properly responding to this beauty and goodness in things, which reflects the Beauty and Goodness of their Source and Creator, is the very reason for which we exist.

So St. Thomas Aquinas says:

“All things desire God as their end, when they desire some good thing . . . because nothing is good and desirable except forasmuch as it participates in the likeness to God” [3]

From this follows Chesterton’s next quote:

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder” [4].

Thanks are the highest form of thought, because all thought is directed towards knowing, and the ultimate object of all knowing is again God Himself. To know the nature of something that exists is to know its Source and Creator, and the proper response to recognizing this is simply wonder and thankfulness at its very existence.

Again, gratitude is just the appreciation of things as they are, appreciation of the good in things. Unfulfilled desires are the cause of misery; so to be content in, and to rejoice in, things as they are, recognizing even the smallest flower petal as a gift full of more infinite goodness than we could possibly imagine, without heedlessly desiring more because we realize what we have been given is vastly more than we can even comprehend, is the surest road to happiness. To recognize that each blade of grass beneath our feet is the brushstroke of God as Creator and Being Himself is to open forth a gushing fountain of unending mirth.

In question 106 of the “Second of the Second Part” of his Summa Theologiae, Aquinas considers gratitude as a virtue under the cardinal virtue of justice. This particular question asks “Whether a man is bound to give thanks to every benefactor?” First Aquinas presents six objections to an affirmative answer. Then he responds with a single verse:

On the contrary, It is written (1 Thess. 5:18): ‘In all things give thanks'” [5].

A larger portion of the same passage of scripture reads:

“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18, ESV).

It is no accident that giving thanks and rejoicing are placed together, because they are intrinsically interwoven actions. It is also worth pointing out that they are both commands.

Aquinas’s full account of the nature of gratitude is much longer, more complex, and more technical. But here we’ll give just a brief look:

“Every effect turns naturally to its cause; whereas Dionysius says (Div. Nom. i) that ‘God turns all things to Himself because He is the cause of all’: for the effect must needs always be directed to the end of the agent. Now it is evident that a benefactor, as such, is cause of the beneficiary. Hence the natural order requires that he who has received a favor should, by repaying the favor, turn to his benefactor according to the mode of each” [6].

In other words, we give thanks for gifts or favors received. And all gifts or favors are given by an agent, who is the cause of the recipient being a beneficiary of that favor/gift. And all effects are naturally turned/directed towards their causes, so every beneficiary ought to be turned towards his benefactor, the act of which is thankfulness. God is the First and Final Cause of all that exists, including man. Thus man’s “natural order” is to be turned to God in thankfulness. Writes St. Paul:

“For in him [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16, NIV, emphasis mine).

God, in Christ, created all things for Himself, to be directed towards and to reach fulfillment in Himself. Elsewhere, Aquinas discusses how justice is the cardinal virtue of giving to things that which they are owed. And as a virtue “annexed” to justice, gratitude is lesser; because gratitude is all that we are able to give God in return for his gifts of creation and salvation, but the gratitude of man could never equal even a small, minuscule portion compared to the immense, immeasurable value and greatness of God’s gifts. And that is the meaning of grace. Existence and salvation are God’s gifts to man; but man could never hope to repay to God either of these things. Gratitude is all we have to give in turn. Giving thanks, in its fullest sense, is what man owes to God; but it is hardly a drop compared to the infinite, raging ocean depths of what we truly and totally owe Him. Everything is what we owe Him; our own finite thanksgiving is all we have to offer. And even that is already His.

So if you want happiness, if you want to be fully human, then “in all things give thanks”, for in doing so you grasp the very nature and proper order of existence.

 

Notes

[1]. Quotes found online: <https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2014/11/27/5-quotes-from-g-k-chesterton-on-gratitude-and-thanksgiving/&gt;.

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. Summa Theologiae, I, Q. 44, Art. 4. Taken from online source: <http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1044.htm#article4&gt;.

[4]. See link for Chesterton quotes above.

[5]. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. 1265-1274. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Coyote Canyon Press, 2010. ebook. II-II, Q. 106, Art. 3.

[6]. Ibid.

A Cry for Peace

We live in a world torn by violence, division, oppression, injustice, anger, ignorance, chaos, and, ultimately, hatred. It is a broken world, full of broken people. Confusion and fear reign. We jump to sides, immersing ourselves in ideologies to protect ourselves and make sense of the raging discord and turmoil. We create “us vs. them” narratives to justify ourselves; and whenever tragedy strikes, we are quick to point the finger to the other side.

Today, I don’t want to point fingers or call names or lay blame. Today I don’t want to stand on any one side of a political fence. Today I want simply to pray and cry out for peace.

But what is peace? Continue reading