Sunday, November 4, 2012

Unfortunately, there really is a culture war on

I miss blogging.  I just never get a chance to do it without my trusty (okay, super unreliable) laptop.  I've been planning out this post for a week, ever since I started reflecting on the term "culture war."

In short, I don't like it.  I also don't like people who act as if we are in the middle of a culture war: they act combative when faced with people who don't share their worldview; they refuse to consider the truth of what others say; they associate only with those who share their worldview; among themselves, they ridicule and denigrate "the other side."  I was annoyed with pro-life, religious, conservative people doing it, so I read liberal atheist blogs ... and they do it too!  Not everyone on either side -- but a lot of them do.  There's a lot of, "Get this: this guy suggests that if people don't want to get pregnant, they just shouldn't have sex!  LOL!"  And a lot of, "Those people are all into saving the baby whales!  Why don't they care about the baby humans?"  And the hearers all nod and say, "How could those people be so dumb not to realize they are wrong?"

So I tried to be fair and honest.  I tried to read what the "other side" had to say.  (I don't agree, of course, with the "religious right" on every detail, as I am not a Republican by any stretch of the term, but I am strongly religious and pro-life, so I was reading atheist and pro-choice blogs.)  I read them with open eyes and mind, trying to see what the arguments were.  Granted, I wasn't looking to change my mind.  I was trying to see exactly where my thought and their thought diverged, so that I could figure out why intelligent, kind, well-meaning people disagree with me so drastically.

I guess I was hoping there would be some silver bullet, some way of saying, "See, we aren't really so different after all!  It's just this one little point, but on every other detail we agree."  I thought that's how it was.  I thought people who were pro-choice on the issue of abortion, for instance, had essentially the same worldview and moral code as I did, only they didn't understand that an unborn baby is a human person just as a born child is.  If only I could convince them, I'd be golden.  And I did try, in a few discussions, to point out that a human person is just a being who is a unique individual (as opposed to an arm or leg, you know) with its own genetic code, who is alive, who belongs to the human species.  I feel it is easy to prove that an embryo, from its earliest moments, fits these criteria.  So Q.E.D., right?

Unfortunately, I wasn't counting on another hiccup.  Apparently I am what is called a "deontologist."  This is a person who believes, among other things, that there is a moral code that you have to follow that says, "You may not kill humans."  It's a moral law, and it applies all the time.  (It is helpful, when following a moral norm like this, to have it more strictly defined than that, which the Catholic Church does.)  Many of the bloggers I read were actually consequentialists and/or utilitarians.  They believed that you shouldn't kill humans without a proportionate reason.  In their worldview, rather than considering one life as having infinite value or the owner of it as having intrinsic rights, they weigh one life against another life.  Hence they would think it okay to shoot one person to save ten people, because ten are more than one, whereas I feel aghast at the notion of doing so because killing people is wrong.

That's where you get several rather good arguments in favor of abortion that I kept coming across.  For instance: "If pro-lifers really believe that embryos are people, then why aren't they trying to end miscarriage too?  After all, as many as 50% of conceptions may end in miscarriage."  The simple reason is that one is not required to save every single life (which is impossible), but that you aren't allowed to take any lives.  As a human being, that's above your pay grade, so to speak.  The more complicated reason is that you can't actually prevent most miscarriages, because they happen when an embryo has a genetic mutation that is incompatible with life (which would be incurable), or because the mother's uterus is not prepared to receive it (also can't be helped).  When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, she was told she would die in two months with no treatment, or somewhat later with aggressive treatment.  According to our moral code, she is not required to go for the aggressive treatment; her life can't be saved, and she is not required to save all lives, but only those she reasonably can.  (Catholic teaching dictates that the sick must use normal means to survive -- like food and water -- but extraordinary measures, like ventilators or surgery, are optional and based on circumstances.)

Anyway, it would be a really good argument if it weren't for the deep philosophical divide between them and me -- which I assume they were no more aware of than I was, or they wouldn't make arguments like that.  Or perhaps they use them, as we use arguments like "every conception is God's will," to convince each other a bit more firmly that they are right.  I can't imagine soberly going up to an atheist utilitarian and saying, "God says every life is sacred."  But I might say that to my religious friends, because we have the common ground to go on that puts the statement in context.

Then I read this article and this response to it.  The former basically calls all pro-lifers hypocrites because if we really cared about saving babies, we'd be all for contraception.  Instead, we must be anti-sex; that's the real agenda, because we're unwilling to let people have all the sex they want, with whomever they want, without ever getting pregnant.  The latter says, in short, "Yes.  It's true.  We don't think that people should have sex whenever they want, because sex makes babies, and we want to save babies."

Here's a quote:

The fundamental truth of the pro-choice movement, from which all of its tenets flow, is that sex does not have to have life-altering consequences. I suddenly saw that it was the struggle to uphold this "truth" that led to all the shady dealings, all the fear of information, all the mental gymnastics that I'd observed. For example:

--> If it is true that sex does not have to have life-altering consequences, then life within the womb cannot be human. Otherwise, when your contraception fails or you otherwise end up with an unplanned pregnancy, you just became a parent, and that truth was proven false.

--> If it is true that sex does not have to have life-altering consequences, then people should be able to engage in sexual activity as they see fit, without giving a second thought to parenthood. And if it's true that it is morally acceptable for people to engage in sexual activity without giving a second thought to parenthood, then abortion must be okay. Contraception has abysmal actual use effectiveness rates, especially when taken over the long term. Combine that with the fact that the contraceptive mentality tells women to go ahead and engage in the act that creates babies, even if they feel certain that they're in no position to have a baby, and you see how women would feel trapped, and think that their only way out is through the doors of their local abortion mill.

That there is a fundamental difference between the pro-life and the pro-choice view.  Pro-choice people, as a general rule, think that sex shouldn't have to have anything to do with babies.  After all, there are pills for that now, right?  Only those pills do fail.  But that's okay, we have abortion.

Pro-lifers start at the other end: Abortion kills a baby.  People have abortions because their birth control failed.  So birth control isn't good enough.  Maybe people who really couldn't have babies right now, shouldn't have sex at all.

I don't see any cure to this.  There is no way to reconcile the two positions.  Either sex has an intrinsic connection with babies, or it doesn't.  And the only way to break that connection is with contraception and abortion.

Now, of course, we can't legislate sexual activity.  I know of no culture, no matter how strict, that successfully prevented everyone from having nonmarital sex.  We also can't really legislate birth control, because there are many different mothods of birth control, some of which are impossible to ban, and because some contraceptives (specifically I'm thinking of the pill here) actually do have medicinal purposes as well.  It's hard even to legislate abortion; and while I think we should try, the reality is that we can't actually prevent all abortions without completely removing any semblance of freedom or privacy that we currently enjoy.

That leaves me in a bind.  On the one hand, I can't stop people from having sex, even if I believe they are having irresponsible sex.  On the other, I want to stop them from having abortions, because there is a real baby involved and I feel responsible for defending the life of that baby to the extent possible.  Birth control is supposed to be the bridge between those two things.  If I advocate for free contraception, on the one hand, I would presumably reduce the number of abortions.  But on the other hand, I further the lie (and I do believe it is a lie) that it is possible to have consequence-free sex.  If I gave someone a bunch of birth control pills, and they then went out and had sex, believing it to be consequence-free, but later it failed and they got pregnant anyway, and chose to have an abortion ... would I be responsible?  To some extent, I feel I would.

I'm not going to stop looking for common ground.  I'm currently reading a book (The Silenced Majority, highly recommend) by someone I would have once considered a "flaming liberal," and I find myself nodding my head more often than not.  When it comes to civil liberties, I agree with the authors of this book completely.  But in the back of my mind, I hold the knowledge that this detente can only go so far.  I might agree with about 90% of what "the left" professes.  It's that 10% that won't ever jive.  I will always believe two things at least that they never will: first, that there is a moral law that binds all the time, regardless of circumstances; and second, that sex is intrinsically connected with reproduction.

That second one seems an easier one to prove than the first.  (The first is not, strictly speaking, provable; though with a great deal of effort I might manage to explain it in such a way as to make it plausible to a person who previously disagreed with it.)  I can simply reason from biology.  I can say, "The reason you feel the urge to have sex is because you are biologically designed to want to, so that you will continue the species."  But they might answer, "Why should I be a slave to biology?"  I could come up with the parallel of eating.  I could say, "Your instincts give you the urge to eat.  If you don't want to be a slave to biology, you should use reason to help you attain the same end goal (survival) by limiting how much you give in to the urge of eating.  Using science, you can figure out what the best things are for your body to eat, and when to stop eating so that you don't make yourself sick.  But if you think you can eat as much as you want, and only chocolate cake, and then make yourself throw up after so that you don't suffer the consequences, all I can say is that sooner or later biology always wins.  Trying to outsmart your instincts by slavishly obeying them one moment, and then turning and trying to avoid their end goal the next, is probably going to end up hurting you in the long run."

But can I prove that?  No.  I can't prove that this is 100% always going to be the case.  All I can say is that it tends to be the case.  Making yourself throw up is bad for you.  Birth control pills have side effects; you can't overlay your entire hormonal reproductive system with an artificial version without some side effects -- to say nothing of the fact that they may fail.  But if you prefer to risk the side effects, and you don't think that getting an abortion if they don't work is a bad thing, then where am I?  I still have failed to convince you, my imaginary pro-choice person.  If you were religious, I could tell you that God made you to have sex in order to reproduce, and that the sixth commandment is given to you so that you will know the best way to use your sexual faculty without hurting yourself or others.  But odds are, you're not.

I do believe my worldview is right.  In fact I believe that it is objectively right, that it is right whether you believe in it or not, and that it is right for all times and places.  But if you are a person who does not believe that there is such a thing as objectively right, or morally imperative, or true at all times and places, then I will never be able to convince you.

That's why we call it a "war."  Diplomacy has failed; there is no way to convince the other side unless they choose to listen.  And the battleground is our entire culture.  A culture that believes what I believe would be based on intact families; people would use their reason and willpower to avoid having sex if they couldn't raise any resulting babies.  Birth control is too uncertain; people wouldn't use it.  A culture that believes that sex is recreational only, or bonding only, or means only what you want it to mean -- that culture is not going to be based on intact families or permanently married couples.  People will have sex.  They will get pregnant outside of marriage.  Sometimes, they will have abortions.  Other times, children will be raised with no father, or no mother, or several step-parents, or in foster care.

I believe the first culture is better than the second.  I believe the second scenario results in more insecure children, more crime, more poverty, less respect for human dignity.  But I cannot deny that the second scenario is, in fact, what we have.  And I'm rather at a loss as to what to do with it.

My path for a long time has been what you see here.  I open my life wide to the whole internet, saying, "See the way I live?  Is it so bad?  Am I so deprived?  Would you like to live the way I do?  That option is available.  It is difficult in many ways, but you wouldn't be alone."  But it feels so insufficient.  I don't know of anyone who read my blog or my Facebook updates and said, "Hey, she looks like she has a nice life.  I think I'll become Catholic now."  Nope, never happened.  But on the other hand, the preachy way doesn't seem to work either.  So I am, as before, at a loss.

None of this would be a problem for me if I didn't love the people I disagree with so dang much.  I could just keep myself to myself and let the rest of the world go to pot.  I don't want to do that, because I'm a compassionate person and I really do want everyone in the world to be as happy as I am.

I just ... don't know how.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sheila - If you would you like to have a respectful conversation with a pro-choice person to find overlap, you aren't going to find that with strangers on the 'net. There are a couple of reasons for that (we can discuss). AND you are welcome to email me and you and I can do it. I'll look for a link and send my contact info.

Anonymous said...

Okay - I started. You can continue or not. My feelings will not be hurt either way! And by the way, I love you too! ;)

Anonymous said...

I do disagree with this "Pro-choice people, as a general rule, think that sex shouldn't have to have anything to do with babies."

The rest...shall be private, but only if you so choose.


Sheila said...

I'm sorry, I see that I really did overgeneralize. I was speaking, I guess, of the specific pro-choice people with whom I've been rubbing elbows lately. I do know that not everyone who is pro-choice is atheist and consequentialist!

I am not sure if there is any particular benefit to having a discussion about it, though, because as I said, everyone feels much too strongly about it. I have no intention at all of changing my mind based on anything you say, and I don't think I've ever been in a conversation with anyone who was willing to change their mind either. And I'm also rather exhausted on the whole topic; it depresses me. BUT, that having been said, I think it's fair to hear you out if you want -- though I can't guarantee I will say anything remotely intelligent in response!

Anonymous said...

Got your message. Will respond as time and brain-power allows.

I don't presume I'll change your mind. I doubt I could make any argument against your core beliefs that would change them!

I may offer a new perspective on paths forward though...

Let's take our time. I'm tired too.

Anonymous said...

I think that those who think sex and babies should be separate, who don't believe the purpose of sex is bonding AND babies tend to have a utilitarian outlook on people. In fact, perhaps this is a big aspect of concupiscence period. We tend to look at others as someone to use for our own ends, even though of course, we'd like to rationalize that, at the very least to say, "Well, but that person is using me, too, and I don't mind." Allowing babies to come into being is a huge antidote to using that person of the opposite sex purely for pleasure, and encourages the bonding aspect of sex. Sex without bonding or babies ends up being rather meaningless, and one begins to wonder whether one might as well use machines or pornography, etc. for the pleasure. When all is said and done, people DO want to MAKE LOVE, make connections, have commitments, and have a life-giving relationship. They DO end up having their hearts and lives greatly injured by anything less.
But even those who have assented to the moral code will find ourselves sometimes using our husbands and wives either for pleasure, or money, or security, or whatever; and then using our children for prestige or convenience or comfort. It is almost unavoidable, being human and weak. But it is a good check on our morals to constantly ask, "Am I loving or using? Am I self-giving or taking?" While of course, we must be interdependent, we must need people, it has to be in an open way in which we respect their dignity as people, subjects of rights, and not objects of our neediness.
Complicated! It's really very complicated, but in Pope John Paul II's writings, there are some very inspirational ways of thinking on this issue.

Sheila said...

True. However, I do think it's very important not to demonize those with whom we disagree. I do think that there are problems that will necessarily arise if you try to separate sex and babies. On the other hand, most people in our culture don't think of them as intrinsically linked, and most people are good people all the same. They love their spouses and children just as much, and aren't consciously using other people.

I know I sound wishy-washy, but the fact is that the more I read and listen to people I disagree with, the more I realize that they are probably better people than I am. The truth doesn't magically fix all of our problems or make us perfect, and the lack of it doesn't keep people from living lives of great virtue.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think I sound like I'm trying to demonize the people with whom I disagree? What I was at least trying to do was to say, let's be careful ourselves not to use people.

Sheila said...

It kind of did come across that way. Sorry if I misread.

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