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Responsibility where it counts

Josh wrote todayyesterday about what’s wrong with the US. He made some great points.

Take two films, let’s say Saving Private Ryan vs. oh, say Boogie Nights. Both were critically acclaimed and both are rated “R”. Let’s say you have children, and you are forced to let them watch one of the two movies. Which are you going to pick?

Chances are, you’ll probably say Saving Private Ryan. Because, in this country, violence is far more acceptable than nudity and sexual content. For instance, my seven year old brother has a very clear concept of murder and death, while he knows nothing of sex.

This scares me. Violence leads to death, destruction, pain. What does sex, nipples, nudity, and penises lead to? Usually fun, happiness, and the creation of life.

I couldn’t agree more.

However, after this he goes on to make the following argument:

Look at the conservative stance on abortion, war, and the death penalty. Don’t end a life before it’s born, and save the child and mother from suffering. Wait until the child has grown, is attached to life, and knows pain all too well. Then kill them, so the suffering will be greater.

I couldn’t disagree more.

First of all, let me be nitpicky and point out the flaw in this argument. The baby who was not aborted 30 years ago is not necessarily going to be the same person who is executed for murdering someone else. Making the argument in this way dehumanizes both.

But now let me respond to the heart of this argument.

I have honestly thought it strange that religious people don’t favor abortion. If there’s a heaven, and the child is going to come into a troubled world, then why not send it right to paradise? The answer to that question, of course, is that everyone is assumed in Christianity to have a soul…and so while the child would go to heaven, the person(s) responsible for killing it would go to hell. (Unless, of course, Jesus forgave them later.) This is, therefore, a selfish desire not to go to hell.

However, it also confuses me that atheists, people who believe there is nothing more to our life than what we have now, would so easily take from someone else the chance to experience life at all. The reason for this is that atheists don’t believe in souls. So, simplistically, we’re not killing a human with a soul, we’re sucking out some living cells and disposing of them.

This is the disconnect I fail to comprehend. Those cells are going to grow into a human being. Even if that human being doesn’t have a soul, you can hardly argue that people don’t have different personalities and abilities, and that every individual has the potential to affect the world in great ways. And while you can never truly know another person’s feelings, you can imagine that other people feel in ways that are similar to the way you feel. It’s nice to be able to feel. It’s what makes us human. Abortion means not giving another human being the chance to feel.

I’m not going to say that abortion should be outlawed, because as AJ has said, it’s a necessary evil. But I do feel strongly that all other options must be completely exhausted before abortion is even considered. And abortion should absolutely not be used as a form of birth control.

When a person gets an abortion, it is typically the decision of one or a handful of people. When a person is executed for committing a crime, however, it is the decision of a jury. I think this is a significant difference. If it can be shown that a person cannot be rehabilitated, that they will go back out into society and perpetuate the same crimes again, then I see the death penalty as a viable option. I also think lifetime incarceration is fine. I’m not going to complain about the cost of keeping someone in prison. The fact is, there are ways we could cut those costs. I don’t mean by changing the prisons into fortresses with no material comforts whatsoever, but instead by not throwing so many people charged with lesser crimes into jail. I think we should work harder to rehabilitate people who shoplift, for example. Take privileges away, fine them out the wazoo. Don’t automatically throw them into our already overcrowded prisons.

(I’m kind of with the libertarians when it comes to the drug issue. I think marijuana should probably be legalized for private, in-home use. That would knock out a significant portion of taxpayer expense towards the drug war. Driving while under the influence of marijuana should be an offense just like DUI, but I don’t believe it’s been shown that habitual marijuana use is going to kill you. I do think it affects your social life and your behavior, but so does alcohol, and Prohibition didn’t do us a damn bit of good.)

Josh didn’t really get into the “war” part of his argument. I heard an interesting idea on that once. I can’t for the life of me remember who said it. [I found it! Eric Burns, 2004.] Basically, it went like this: when the nation was considering going to war, a vote would be taken that would include only the people who would actually fight in the war. If the vote was for war, those people who voted yes would go first. People who didn’t vote would go second. People who voted no would be called last.

I remember that whoever posted it thought the results would be “interesting”. I think they’d be interesting, too, but not in the same way as the original poster, I’m sure. I think we have a lot of brave men and women in our armed forces who would vote yes in many situations.

Of course, if this were to go into effect then we would also need a structure that would keep the United States from causing future wars. Something that would let those same voters determine whether or not an economic policy or a trade deal or whatever might cause trouble down the road. In effect, we’d be letting the people who would go to war for the country determine the country’s path, because otherwise it wouldn’t be fair. It’s an interesting thought, but where does that leave the rest of us?

Josh leaves us with an important reminder.

Of course, the idea is that we suffer here on Earth, avoiding earthly pleasures so that when we’re dead and gone, we might have a chance to enter a magical fantasy land where all our dreams will come true.

Meanwhile, the Earth, and what we truly know to exist, the here and now, falls in ruin and decays.

Everyone should take this warning to heart, and start working towards ways to take better care of our planet and our people.

[Edit 2005/02/20 7:40 pm: According to this interesting editorial in the NYT:

Souls bearing the stain of original sin, we are told, do not merit salvation. That is why, according to traditional theology, unbaptized babies have to languish in limbo for all eternity.

This kind of destroys my “that makes no sense” argument concerning why Christians are against abortion. I guess that argument sounds familiar now, but I didn’t think of it before. I don’t think I was taught about “limbo” at all. Is that a Catholic thing?]