A Philosopher's Blog

Church & State: Immaculate Contraception

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on February 13, 2012
Margaret Sanger Deutsch: Margaret Sanger (* 1879)

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Back in 1914 Margaret Sanger included information about birth control in the June issue of her magazine, The Woman Rebel. She was arrested under the Comstock Law and her ally, the anarchist Emma Goldman, was soon after arrested for the same crime. Fast forward to 2012 and another battle  over birth control is brewing (or, rather, being brewed).

Rick Santorum has made it clear that he is against contraception and Obama and the Catholic Church recently locked horns over one aspect of the health reform law. This law requires that health insurance plans offer free birth control. Since this would include Catholic affiliated hospitals and schools, the Catholic Church has been pushing back against the law.

Not surprisingly, this is being portrayed as an attack on religious liberty and the values of Catholicism. However, it is rather important to note that the law does not apply to churches, but rather only to institutions, such as hospitals and schools, that serve a large number of non-Catholics and also receive federal money.

As such, it is rather tempting to say that this is actually a manufactured issue. After all, the law simply requires that these institutions follow the same laws as everyone else and these institutions can presumably elect to refuse the federal money an thus avoid the requirement they regard as onerous. Also, churches are exempt from this and there is no requirement that they change their religious doctrines.

It might be replied that this requirement still violates the ethical views of the church by requiring institutions affiliated with the church to provide services and products the church rejects. One obvious reply is that if churches are entitled to be exempt from such laws based on their doctrines, then they could, for example, adopt the view that medical care is against God’s will and thus not be required to provide any medical insurance coverage at all. This, obviously enough, seems rather absurd.

The obvious reply is that the Catholic doctrine is well-established and hence they are opposed to this requirement on established moral grounds rather than merely trying to weasel out of paying for some service. This raises two questions.

The first is whether or not churches (or any groups) should be granted exemption from laws based on their moral beliefs. The second is whether or not the rejection of contraception is, in fact, a Catholic moral position.

In regards to the first question, there are good reasons for allowing said exemptions and others against it. In terms of allowing such exemptions, it does seem correct for the state to endeavor to avoid imposing on the conscience of people when possible. For example, conscientious objectors have been recognized during the time of war. Allowing the Catholic Church a contraception exception would thus seem to fall within this realm of legitimacy.

That said, there are clearly cases in which such exemptions would be absurd. For example, a group that regarded murder as morally correct would not thus be granted a murder exemption. As such, there is the challenge of determining what sort of exemptions would be acceptable, which would not and which would be absurd.

One standard (among many) that seems reasonable would be to require that the group in question actually holds to the principle and is not, for example, merely trying to get an exemption to avoid paying for legally a required service or to simply to get away with something. After all, to grant an exemption on moral grounds to a group that does not actually hold to that moral principle would seem rather unwarranted. This, of course, does raise the question about who determines the moral principles of the group. This takes me to the matter of birth control and Catholicism.

In my own experience, most Catholics have been fine with using birth control (or letting their partner use it). While my own observations over the years could be unusual, this is completely consistent with the polls showing that 98% of Catholics use some form of birth control. This certainly suggests that Obama’s view is in line with 98% of Catholics. Assuming that the Catholics do not regard their actions as immoral, it would seem that Obama’s view is thus consistent with the moral view of the majority of the Catholics and the folks who oppose this law on the basis of an alleged moral concern are the ones that are in the wrong.

It can, of course, be replied that these birth control using Catholics are immoral and that the true morality of Catholicism is against birth control. If so, the Catholic church needs to get its flocks back into the right pasture and off birth control. The obvious reply to this is that it seems to make little sense for a tiny minority of a group to define the values of the group against the beliefs and actions of the majority.

This does not, of course, address the issue of whether or not birth control is immoral. If it is, then a case could certainly be made against it. This would, of course, require arguments that address such moral concerns as the fact that the use of birth control lowers the number of abortions, the fact that its availability allows women greater control over reproduction, the fact that its availability can provide protection against disease and so on. Presumably this could be done.

Of course, God does not seem to have much of a problem with birth control. While it does fail sometimes, He could easily make it fail 100% of the time. If it was that big of a deal to Him, surely He would do things like smite holes into all condoms.


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  1. T. J. Babson said, on February 13, 2012 at 8:42 am

    “that 98% of Catholics use some form of birth control.”

    This statement is absurd as it stands, and needs bunch of qualifiers–for example, is a postmenopausal woman “using” birth control?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm

      You are right, there should be all sorts of qualifications on that. However, the key fact is that 98% of Catholics have used it. Even if the % is lower, the point made still remains.

      • T. J. Babson said, on February 13, 2012 at 9:22 pm

        The church allows the rhythm method–is that considered part of the 98%? If so, then the 98% could be misleading, as it is meant to indicate that only 2% follow the church’s teaching, when the actual figure could be far higher?

        And there is a huge difference between “uses” and “used.” Isn’t there a difference between “Obama uses cocaine” and “Obama used cocaine”?

        • dhammett said, on February 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm

          TJ: The following info is likely as close as we’ll come to satisfying your need for qualifiers:
          A/ From an NFP advocate (straight from the horse’s mouth, if you will) :
          “The Catholic Church rejects what it calls ‘artificial’ methods of contraception, instead advocating a method of pregnancy prevention inspired by their theology, called Natural Family Planning. The method measures a woman’s temperature and fertile signs and, if pregnancy is to be avoided, prescribes abstinence during fertile periods. One NFP advocate, Janet Smith, estimates that no more than 4 percent of Catholics use the method, a fact that, according to Politico, Obama administration officials took into consideration in their initial decision to require religious institutions to cover contraceptives.”

          So Janet Smith says that no more than four percent USE (not used) natural means of contraception. I guess we’ll just have to ‘use’ that information, combine it with other available,information, and reach a conclusion or two.

          B/The following interesting piece is from another Catholic source:

          “The average household size in the United States has been steadily declining, from 3.27 in 1950 to 2.03 in 2000. In 1970, 21 percent of households had five or more people; in 2007 only 10 percent did. During that same time the square footage of the average U.S. home has more than doubled, though.
          “Fifty years ago, many of these large families were Catholic, thanks to our church’s prohibition of birth control. Now that Catholics regularly ignore that church teaching, we have about the same number of children as the average American family.
          “But an increasing number of large families, including some of those on the reality TV shows, do base their repeat reproduction on their faith. They are part of a new evangelical movement that bases its rejection of any birth control (including natural family planning) on a literal interpretation of Psalm 127: ‘Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is his reward … Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them …'”

          Put these two pieces of information from Catholic sources together and what do you get?
          1/ Only 4% of Catholic women use the natural method.
          2/ “Now that Catholics regularly ignore that church teaching [natural birth control] , we have about the same number of children as the average American family.”
          3/ So. The actual figures on how many Catholics use the natural method , as you say, could be misleading. But these Catholic sources seem to indicate that they’re not misleading by much. Somehow, the size of the typical American Catholic family is beginning to look like the size of the typical American family.
          4/ I love this one. That last line of the last paragraph, carefully picked from the Bible, seems to indicate that the Catholic Church itself, even in its debatable attempts to achieve whatever it hopes to achieve with its call for natural birth control , apparently hasn’t gone far enough to fulfill God’s own directives: There should be NO attempt, natural or otherwise to prevent childbirth. Damn the torpedoes. Don’t worry. Be happy. Have a quiver-full of kids.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm

            True-arguments against contraceptive use often also apply to the “natural” methods that the Church endorses. That seems a bit odd, unless their view is that God set things up that way so people could gamble with having unprotected sex in the hopes that pregnancy will not occur. That seems like a bit of a “cheat” though.

        • T. J. Babson said, on February 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm

          More on the 98% nonsense:

          Recently I received a phone call from my non-Christian (as far as I know) philosopher friend Neil Manson who, because he has an active and fair mind, had been exercised over what seemed to him the high FQ (Fishiness Quotient) of the statistical meme presently going around to the effect that “98% of Catholic women use birth control.” Or something. Maybe “98% of Catholic women have used birth control.” The former is obviously ludicrous, as it would seem to include elderly Catholic women, of whom it seems plausible that there are more than 2% among Catholics. Anyway, Neil wanted to know if I had read anything debunking the statistic.

          Well, I had to admit that I hadn’t. This is mostly because the relevance of the claim to the HHS’s mandate is, to put it mildly, obscure. If a large percentage of Jainists are chowing down on hamburgers on the side, it hardly follows that an expressly Jainist charitable organization should be forced by the federal government to fund a plan that buys free hamburgers for its employees. If a bunch of Quakers turn out to have gun licenses, employees of an expressly Quaker organization are not therefore entitled to have their fees paid to a shooting range or their ammo. provided at no cost through an employer plan. There is this commonsense notion that organizations that are explicitly identified as religious are allowed to uphold the actual doctrinal and behavioral standards of their respective religious bodies. Whether the rank and file membership of that religious body follow those standards in daily life should be irrelevant.

          Still, it has proven rather interesting to look into the statistical claim.

          Here’s how it works. The study is here. The relevant tables are Figure 3 on p. 6 and the second Supplementary Table on p. 8. The survey was limited to women between 15-44. Ah, well, that explains how we weren’t including the elderly, but it also means that the silly “percent of all Catholic women” thing should be chucked out right from the beginning. More strikingly, as Neil pointed out to me after looking up the study, it excluded any women who were a) not sexually active, where that is defined as having had sexual intercourse in the past three months (there go all the nuns), b) postpartum, c) pregnant, or d) trying to get pregnant! In other words, the study was specifically designed (as the prose discussion on p. 8 makes explicit, in bold print) to include only women for whom a pregnancy would be unintended and who are “at risk” of becoming pregnant. Whether or not it included women who considered themselves neither trying nor not trying to get pregnant (there are some such women in the world) is unclear. It’s also unclear whether it included women who have had their reproductive organs removed because of some medical problem. Presumably the study was intended to exclude women in both of these categories, as neither would count as a woman “at risk of an unintended pregnancy.”

          Now, consider what all of this means as far as the representativeness of the sample for Catholic women. Surely there are a fair number of Catholic women between 15-44 who are not “at risk of an unintended pregnancy” for various reasons. It is plausible that this number is higher among Catholics than among non-Catholics. For one thing, a faithful Catholic woman in this age category who is not married is supposed to be remaining celibate. Hence she won’t fall into the “at-risk” category, and by the same token she won’t have any use for the “services” that the Obama administration is mandating be provided. Similarly, married Catholic women are probably more likely not to be attempting to avoid pregnancy, even using Natural Family Planning, than non-Catholic women. One would think they are also more likely to be pregnant or postpartum. And so on and so forth. In short, the deliberate design of the study to cover only women who, at the time of the study, were having sexual intercourse while regarding a pregnancy as unintended would be likely to make it unrepresentative of Catholics and particularly unrepresentative of devout Catholics. Yet the study is now being cited to show the percentage of Catholic women generally who are not following the teaching of the Catholic Church in this area! What is wrong with this picture?

          To make matters even weirder, this Politifact evaluation of the meme gets it wrong again and again, and in both directions.

          First, the Politifact discussion insists that the claim is only about women in this category who have ever used contraception. When I first heard that and hadn’t looked at the study, I immediately thought of the fact that such a statistic would presumably include women who were not at the time of the study using contraception and had used it only once in the past. It was even pointed out to me that it would include adult converts whose use might easily have been prior to their becoming Catholic. However, that isn’t correct, anyway. The study expressly was of current contraceptive use. That’s, in a sense, “better” for the side that wants the numbers to be high.



          • dhammett said, on February 14, 2012 at 11:54 pm

            I’d suggest your Catholic male source should get out and preach his quibbles to the flock, because the two female Catholic sources I quoted (2/13 11:34pm) seem to be quite convinced that a significant percentage, up to 96%, of the Catholic women who SHOULD be of most concern in this matter (nuns and old women not included, for example 🙂 ) ‘are’ using contraceptives.

            Being neither a Catholic nor a woman, I have no dog in this fight, but I do find the positions of the Church intriguing.

            But I find the position of evangelicals who promote having a quiver-full of children (see Psalm 127 ref above)especially humorous.
            Imagine what a quiver-full might get you: Feodor Vassilyev’s wife gave birth to 69 children back in the 1700’s. This is what totally unbridled, unprotected sex between two very fertile believers can get you. I’d bet Feo must have felt that producing that last set of quads was real grunge work (and not God’s work) than love.

            God bless any woman who’d bear 1/5 that number of children in this day and age. Let’s say a modern female bears just 12 and her husband dies. She’s not a genetic freak who still looks young after all that baby-making, so she’s too worn down to attract another breadwinner. Too old for making enough money as a whore. Would the church take in all the excess children of such sad situations? The grandparents–the ones still living, that is? Adoption? In a society in which so many two parent families require the salaries of both parents just to keep financial stability, how many families would want to volunteer to take on an additional burden? The Church? With the expense of all those children and the expense of dealing with abuse charges against their wayward priests , likely they’d be begging for contributions and selling off their properties in addition to blackmailing their parishoners with the glories of Heaven and the horrors of Hell. Perhaps the State? Oh, no.

            • T. J. Babson said, on February 15, 2012 at 10:36 am

              I don’t have a dog in the fight, either, but it bothers me to see people play fast and loose with facts and statistics. First, the claim was that 98% of Catholic women use birth control, and then the claim was that 98% of Catholic women “have used” birth control. At the end of the day you find out that yes, indeed, most Catholic women who are active sexually but don’t want to get pregnant use birth control, but this a a long way from the original 98% claim.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm

              But how does this impact my argument overall?

            • dhammett said, on February 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm

              Not a long way necessarily. At least not according to the two Catholic female sources I cite.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 15, 2012 at 2:03 pm

          98% of Catholic women have used methods other than that. I did wonder about that myself.

          Sure, there is a difference. Let my statement be changed to “98% of Catholic women have used birth control(other than the rhythm method).”

          It might be the case that many of them have since repented of their (alleged) sin.

          • wtp said, on February 15, 2012 at 9:18 pm

            What percent of Catholic women are chaste nuns, lesbians, young virgins, or have no sex drive? What percent of the general population falls in this category? Found a statistic that says 4% of Americans die without ever having sex. Does this mean the Catholic women are much less chaste than they let on? It’s certainly possible. Of course one could also argue that philosophers are less trustworthy and honest and care about people less than the image they project. Hypocrisy has many flavors.

            • dhammett said, on February 15, 2012 at 9:56 pm

              The only people of importance and worth consideration in this discussion are fertile Catholic women—those who have to face the 21st century consequences of not using some form of contraception. Women who haven’t committed their bodies to Christ, or lesbians (like gay men,they’re not even worth consideration as equal human beings by the Church it seems), women who have died before having sex #, and certainly not women past child-bearing age have no bearing on this discussion. I doubt the women in those two articles I cite were considering those women when making their statements. IF we’re considering fertile Catholic women, excluding those in the obvious list above, then I’d say it would be extremely significant if even 60-70% go/went against the Church’s dictates and use/used birth control. Some may look at that as a major triumph of common sense over dogma.

              But let’s just say that the two Catholic women I cited in my 2/13 11:34 —one a ^supporter^ of natural family planning, the other writing in the National Catholic Reporter— are the deceivers and hypocrites and leave it there.
              Being neither Catholic, nor female, I can live with that.

              #Would those be married women who died in auto accidents on the day of their marriage? Single or married women who were about to have sex but were interrupted by murderous armed villains? Women who never had any intention of ever having sex, having no inclinations toward males or females? These women, also, are not relevant to the discussion, and I would have to assume, considering the sources that I cite, are not the focus of any approximations of how many Catholic women use birth control.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 16, 2012 at 11:41 am

              While interesting, the exact % of Catholic women who have used birth control is not the main issue. While the surveys claim 98% have used it, let us suppose that they are all flawed or dishonest and that the percentage is lower than 98%. We can even imagine, if you would like, that the surveys are total lies and that only 2% of Catholic women use birth control. Even with all those assumptions, all my other arguments remain intact.

            • wtp said, on February 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm

              “This certainly suggests that Obama’s view is in line with 2% of Catholics. Assuming that the Catholics do not regard their actions as immoral, it would seem that Obama’s view is thus consistent with the moral view of the majority of the Catholics and the folks who oppose this law on the basis of an alleged moral concern are the ones that are in the wrong.”

              Nah…doesn’t work for me. And let’s not forget, just because someone did something that doesn’t mean that they think it is right to do, nor does it make them hypocrites. It just makes them fallible humans, but it doesn’t change their perspective of what is right and what is wrong.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 17, 2012 at 10:41 am

              True-a person’s actions often have no connection to their professed moral views (see, for example, both Newt and Bill Clinton’s professed views on family values). However, if people routinely and regularly act contrary to their professed views, it seems quite reasonable to wonder if their professed values are, in fact, their real values.

              In general, I tend to believe that a person’s actual values are the one’s they follow or, at the very least, make a reasonable effort to follow. That is, the person’s consistent and general character indicates the values rather than what they merely say.

              In the case of Catholics, the evidence seems rather clear that most American Catholics do not follow the church in regards to contraception. This might mean that they believe in that principle, but yet are incapable of acting in accord with it. This is possible since people can hold values that they are incapable of following (as Aristotle notes in his discussion of moral weakness: having good principles, but lacking the will to follow them). So, perhaps we can say that most American Catholics accept the principle, but are morally weak. If so, it is certainly a good thing that the church has got their back and is insisting on not paying for their birth control (of course, there are plenty of folks who work for those institutions who are not Catholics, but surely the right of the church to impose its moral views trumps the liberty of mere individuals).

  2. […] Church & State: Immaculate Contraception (aphilosopher.wordpress.com) […]

  3. A J MacDonald Jr said, on February 13, 2012 at 9:34 am

    The position of the Church is that every act of sexual intercourse should be open to life, as nature intends, and that when sexual intercourse is not open to life, because contraceptives are used, this can lead down a dead-end societal road wherein women are ultimately treated as sex objects rather than as potential moms.

    It’s a matter of respect, for the dignity of life and for the dignity of women, which respects the dignity of men.

    Regardless, it’s better to obey God than Man.

    • anon said, on February 13, 2012 at 10:16 am

      “It’s a matter of respect, for the dignity of life and for the dignity of women, which respects the dignity of men.”
      You mean treating another person like an actual person? That has nothing to do with contraception.

      “Regardless, it’s better to obey God than Man.”
      Its better to obey things that exist rather than things that are made up.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      Sure, but I’m still waiting for God to show up and give me some direction. All I hear are other people trying to tell me that God wants me to do this or that. They cannot all be right, so who has the true word of God in their mouth and who has naught but ash?

      • FRE said, on February 13, 2012 at 6:30 pm

        That’s exactly the reason that our respect for other people should not be contingent upon their religious beliefs, but rather on their kind and responsible behavior. And organizations should not have special rights just because they are owned by a church.

      • Douglas Moore said, on February 15, 2012 at 8:42 am

        Not all philosophers can be right, either.

  4. jelillie said, on February 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    The problem here lies in the question of where authority for moral law comes from. You seem to be saying that morality must always be dictated by the majority, which of course means morality is relative. As a believer in God of course I reject that idea outright. To believe in God means to believe in a being who has the right to dictate right and wrong according to His pleassure. The God’s sense of morality then is the one that stands and society’s wavering matters not a whit.
    If the Catholic church feels God has dictated the banning of contraceptives then it cannot ever change its mind regarding the issue. National laws, public debates and even declension of the fellowship must have no bearing on the issue. Should Obama still declare the church’s subsidiaries must provide contraception the only choice then is to disobey the law, stop taking federal money and if necessary close their hospitals and schools. True morality cannot budge with the wind of popular opinion. That is why true morality is often compromised.

    • anon said, on February 13, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      There is no such thing as “true morality”. Morality comes from the majority whether you like it or not and what is/what is not moral changes over time. Evidence for this: history. The only reason why this is such a big fuss is BECAUSE of the percentage of catholics in the US (not the majority but a large singular group).

      Anyways, not only has it been proven that a majority of Catholics USE contraceptives themselves, many/most contraceptives have multiple uses, and other drugs that aren’t uses a contraceptives themselves, because of side effects/whatever other reason, are used to treat other things and also prevent pregnancy.

      “National laws, public debates and even declension of the fellowship must have no bearing on the issue.”
      So if somebody believes that their god dictates that all Catholics should be killed then no national laws, public debates, or deven declension of the fellowship must have no bearing on the issue?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      I don’t think that morality is determined by the majority. However, the ethics of a group would seem to be best defined by the members of the group. So, if some folks in the Catholic hierarchy say “our ethics is X” while most Catholics violate X routinely, that raises the obvious question of whether or not it is reasonable to take that as the ethics of Catholicism. That is, if we are exempting the church because of its ethics, whose ethics are being used to justify this exemption?

  5. T. J. Babson said, on February 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    What Mike wrote: “Rick Santorum has made it clear that he is against contraception”

    What Santorum said:

    “This has nothing to do with access,” he said. “This is having someone pay for it, pay for something that shouldn’t even be in an insurance plan anyway because it is not, really an insurable item. This is something that is affordable, available. You don’t need insurance for these types of relatively small expenditures. This is simply someone trying to impose their values on somebody else, with the arm of the government doing so. That should offend everybody, people of faith and no faith that the government could get on a roll that is that aggressive.”


    Mike, are you sure you are a philosopher and not a journalist?

    • FRE said, on February 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm

      That position does make sense. However, the fact is that it IS in insurance plans and I see no reason for non-worship agencies of the Roman Church to be treated any differently.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 13, 2012 at 6:29 pm

      He does claim that it is deeply morally wrong, but he also says he is okay with women having access to it: http://www.examiner.com/political-buzz-in-national/santorum-s-spin-on-contraception-deeply-morally-wrong-but-that-s-ok

      I do hope that you forgive my slight confusion regarding his position-usually folks are against people doing things they regard as deeply morally wrong.

    • dhammett said, on February 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm

      When MItt extended d his hand to shake over a $10000 bet with Perry in a debate, gasps swept over the audience and across the country over the fact that he could be so insensitive to the real lives of the paupers in his audience. Of course, to Mitt, $10k is a drop in a very big bucket compared to what he made in dividends last year. wouldn’t be surprised if Rick could have covered that bet without a sweat..

      Now Rick comes along saying contraception is a “relatively small expenditure” . To a married woman who already has a child and whose husband brings home $15k / year, “relatively small” might seem somewhat “insensitive”. $500+/year. . .

      http://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/news/20030729/iuds-most-cost-effective-birth-control .

      But, to Rick it’s relatively small. . .

  6. FRE said, on February 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Because of past actions, the Roman Church has no right to complain about violation if it’s religious liberty.

    When I was in public high school in a small city in which many of the people were members of the church of Rome, the public high school did not serve meat on Fridays since the Roman Church forbade it from doing so thereby forcing everyone to adhere to the dietary dictates of the Roman Church.

    When a cinema showed a movie that the Roman Church forbade, to punish the cinema, the Roman Church forbade its members from attending that cinema for three years.

    I could relate what the Roman Church did during the inquisitions, crusades, etc.

    The point is that a church that fails to respect the rights of non-members thereby forfeits its right to complain about government actions that do not directly impinge upon the rights of its members to practice their beliefs. Moreover, although the ROMAN catholic church sees contraception as immoral, many other Catholic churches do not see it as immoral; in fact, some see contraception as a moral imperative, depending on circumstances.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm

      The church can still complain-after all, the fact that it was wrong of them to violate the liberties of others does not entail that it is okay to (allegedly) violate their rights.

      However, it does seem fair to point out the apparent inconsistency between their love of (their own) liberty when they have so often been unwilling to accept the liberty of others.

      • FRE said, on February 13, 2012 at 6:50 pm

        You’ve stated that position better than I did.

        I firmly believe in the separation of church and state and that the church should not become directly involved in politics. However, it is reasonable and proper for the church to state its opinion on matters of social justice. There may be some gray areas.

    • Anonymous said, on February 13, 2012 at 11:39 pm

      When I was in grad school in Long Island, my university celebrated high Jewish holidays by giving us the day off. Was this a violation of religious liberty or just a convenience? Could your high school have not served meat because few people would eat it?

      • FRE said, on February 14, 2012 at 3:12 am

        I would guess that about 50% of the students would have eaten mammal meat. It wasn’t really the absence of mammal meat to which I objected, but rather, that the Roman Church church threw its weight around and exercised undo influence on people who were not members of that church. Perhaps my example of its punishing a cinema for showing a movie banned by the RC church by forbidding its members from attending that cinema for three years is better. Before the three years were up, that same cinema showed a movie that members of the Roman Church were required to attend which meant that they had to confess whether they attended that movie or not.

        Quite frankly, I’m more interested in how people treat each other than with what they profess to believe. And I certainly do not believe that any religious organization has a right to force its beliefs onto others, especially if it uses the legal system to do so. And, if its doctrines cause hardships for its members, it should do what it can to alleviate those hardships instead of prevailing on government-supported welfare programs to do so. What I have in mind is a RC family with which I was acquainted; they had eight children and, because they were incapable of supporting eight children, had to depend to some degree on the public dole. They were not lazy; they simply lacked the earning ability to deal with the situation. After the eighth child, they made the very painful decision to ignore their church’s doctrine on contraception and felt very guilty about it.

        • dhammett said, on February 14, 2012 at 10:42 am

          “. . .a new evangelical movement . . . bases its rejection of any birth control (including natural family planning) on a literal interpretation of Psalm 127: ‘Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is his reward … Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them …’”
          The whole concept makes me—quiver.

          The passage above and the interpretation applied should assuage their guilt. It’s not likely to get them off the public dole. . .
          It’s hard to un-ring the bell. The family should have followed the course lots and lots (see my 2/12 11:34 pm post above for a more precise number) of American Catholics have followed–use contraception. Or, God-bless’em, they could have switched to one of many not-so-Catholic Christian churches. I hope God wouldn’t damn them for that. . .

          • FRE said, on February 14, 2012 at 6:55 pm

            I’m familiar with that psalm and also with other OT passages that equate having a large number of children as a blessing from God. At the time those passages were written, they were probably reasonable. The basic problem is that conditions have changed in the approximately 2,500 years since those passages were written. We have been given brains to enable us to think and reason, but yet some people think that we should still blindly follow ancient recommendations and rules, including those which are no longer appropriate.

            Some of the ancient recommendations and rules are still appropriate and, if followed, would contribute to social justice and enhance the quality of our lives. But, we have to THINK! If some people refuse to think, that is their right. However, they should not try to force their beliefs onto others or permit their beliefs to cause problems for others.

            • dhammett said, on February 15, 2012 at 12:02 am

              There’s too frequently a vast vast chasm that exists between Thinking and Believing. Between Fact and Faith.
              Those who follow Psalm 127 believe deeply—they have the deepest faith— that they are interpreting God’s words as he meant them to be interpreted. God bless them and keep them and their vast vast multitudes of children.

              Did you know Feodor Vassilyev’s wife—bless her very fertile (and, it seems to me, overused) reproductive system—bore 69 children?

            • FRE said, on February 15, 2012 at 1:40 am

              Some people seem to think that God dictated the Bible to a stenotypist who preserved for all time God’s exact words. I don’t see it quite like that. I do see the wisdom of God in parts of the Bible, but not all of it. Moreover, there was plenty of time and opportunity for influential Hebrews to change the scriptures in any way they saw fit.

              Part of the OT is the history of the Hebrew people; when people write their history, they generally slant it to make themselves look good. The ancient Hebrews did just that partly by finding ways to rationalize doing things which are socially and morally unacceptable, such as the killing of women and children of other groups of people. Parts of the OT, such as support for forced marriages and the raping of women on enemy territory, are a rationalized reflection of the culture of the day.

              On the other hand, some of the OT prophets strongly emphasized the imperative to aid orphans, widows, and the poor. The last six of the Ten Commandments support social justice and would be seen by most people as good rules for living.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 15, 2012 at 2:12 pm

              True-having a mess of kids was good back then. One needed the free labor as well as an assurance of care in one’s old age. These days, having a mess of kids is far less of a blessing-in fact, most folks probably could not afford it without plenty of support from the state.

  7. T. J. Babson said, on February 14, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Lots of good quotes here that I will dredge up next time we discuss Islam…

  8. wtp said, on February 14, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    “…adopt the view that medical care is against God’s will and thus not be required to provide any medical insurance coverage at all. This, obviously enough, seems rather absurd.”

    What is absurd is a law REQUIRING an employer to provide medical insurance coverage.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      What is absurd about it?

      • wtp said, on February 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm

        I will say it again and again and again, employers do not exist to provide jobs (and now life choices) to employees. Just as people do not exist to benefit corporations. Forcing one or the other to make concessions is wrong. Personally, I think we would all be much better off if we all bought our own health insurance individually.

        • T. J. Babson said, on February 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm

          It is so simple, really.

        • wtp said, on February 16, 2012 at 8:17 am

          And further more….

          Imagine a city where all the major economic planks of the statist or “progressive” platform have been enacted:

          A “living wage” ordinance, far above the federal minimum wage, for all public employees and private contractors.
          A school system that spends significantly more per pupil than the national average.
          A powerful school employee union that militantly defends the exceptional pay, benefits and job security it has won for its members.
          Other government employee unions that do the same for their members.
          A tax system that aggressively redistributes income from businesses and the wealthy to the poor and to government bureaucracies.
          Would this be a shining city on a hill, exciting the admiration of all? We don’t have to guess, because there is such a city right here in our state: Detroit


        • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 16, 2012 at 11:43 am

          That is a position that can be defended and could be seen as a form of ethical egoism (my only obligation is my own self-interest). However, there are also arguments for why we owe other people. As such, the idea that there is no such obligations is a viable option, but not the only or obvious option.

          • wtp said, on February 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm

            If I could make a viable argument that it is in the employees’ and the company’s best interest that everyone begin their day with deep breathing exercises and calamine tea, would it be ok for the government to force this on society? Would that be absurd?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 17, 2012 at 10:49 am

              I’m always split on that sort of thing.

              My anarchist side says that people have the moral right to self-abuse and to refuse what is beneficial. As such, I am inclined to think that people should be free of such restrictions. So, if people want to make their own crack and get whacked on it in their own homes, then that is totally cool. Likewise, people should be free to do anything else that does not harm other people, such as getting same sex married to multiple people or whatever.

              My more sensible side says that since the rest of us (society) has to deal with the consequences of what people do (like crack or Twinkies), then we have a collective right to restrict certain behaviors on that ground. Now if there was a way for people to opt out (perhaps by having Liberty Chips implanted so that hospitals would know not to offer them emergency care) of society so that we had no responsibility for them, then they could correctly claim full liberty in all cases that did not harm others.

    • FRE said, on February 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm

      That position has been taken, at least to a limited degree.

      When it became possible to alleviate the pain of childbirth, the objection raised was that according to Genesis, women should bear children in pain and anguish. The argument in favor of alleviating pain was that God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam while removing his rib to fashion Eve.

      Mary Baker Eddy also has something to say about the practice of medicine.

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