Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Three Sides of the Abortion Debate

In the abortion debate there are two main positions: Pro Life or Pro Choice. I've already written at length about the misnomer of the former and the fact that it is really just a euphemism for Anti-Choice, since pretty much everyone is in favor of life, so this post is not about that. It's about the debate between the two opposing viewpoints concerning whether or not a woman should be legally allowed to have an abortion. The "Pro Life" crowd believes that their own superior sense of morality gives them the right to pass laws to prevent anyone else from choosing to have an abortion. And the Pro Choice group believes that, since there are intelligent people on both sides of the issue and since there is a debate with significant numbers on both sides, that no restrictions should be in place regarding a woman's choice to terminate pregnancy. I, of course, come down staunchly on the side of Choice.

What you don't hear much about in this debate is the sub-group of Pro-Choicers who go a step beyond choice. You hear people say things like, "I wouldn't have an abortion myself but I won't stand in the way of any other woman if she chooses to have one." But there are a group of people, though be it a minority, who are not only Pro-Choice but actually pro-abortion. These are the people who not only agree that women should have the right to choose, but that in many cases, having an abortion might be a really good idea. I am one of those people.

When my wife and I were having kids, back in the '80s, we decided in both instances of pregnancy that if we found out in advance that the fetus was seriously abnormal or that the child would be deformed in a manner that would make his or her life miserable (or our lives miserable) that we would terminate the pregnancy. There was not much room for discussion on the matter. One of us said it and the other one agreed instantly. I don't even remember who said it first, probably me.

In cases where a woman is pregnant, especially a teenager, who is troubled by her pregnancy, she should give serious thought to having an abortion. If you are pregnant and you have reason to believe your baby will be disabled, have an abortion. If you are troubled about having a child, and not just apprehensive that maybe you won't be a good parent, you'll probably do just fine, but really troubled that you are definitely not ready for motherhood, then by all means, abort it. And the sooner you do it, the better. First trimester abortions are little more than an expensive form of birth control. And it's not really that expensive if you go to a place like Planned Parenthood.

If you are worried that you would be committing murder, don't be. It is not murder. That's just the rhetoric of the Christian Right who have you spooked. If you don't believe me that it's not murder, go ahead and call a criminal trial attorney and ask him if you could be arrested for murder if you have an abortion. He'll tell you absolutely not. If you are worried that perhaps it's a sin and you'll go to hell, again, don't worry. That's just the Christian Right drumming it into your head again. There is no such thing as sin; it is something that the Church made up centuries ago to control the masses. There is morality, sure. But you get to decide what is moral based on your own good conscience (as well as federal and state laws). And there is no such place as hell, so you can't go there. Again, hell is a concept that was invented by the early church to keep people coming. It is all a scam. And it's been a scam so long that even the scammers no longer realize that it's a scam. You have nothing to fear from hell.

What you don't need to do is bring another unwanted kid into the world for me, a taxpayer, to help you raise. That's not fair to me, since I'm not the one who impregnated you. I'm not judging you; I'll leave that to the Christians. It's what they do best. Girls and boys of a certain age have sex. They always have; they always will. Maybe the abstinence-only sex education you were getting didn't drive home the message. It seldom does. What you needed was birth control. But if you're pregnant, that ship has sailed. If you are an unmarried teen, or a young woman without a good job or a stable relationship, then the best recommendation that anyone can give you is to have an abortion. And then after you have it, forget about it. It's really no big deal. It's not murder; it won't send you to hell and if close friends and family judge you harshly for it, then what you need to do is find better close friends. There's not much you can do about the family.

So to recap, there are really three positions when it comes to abortion: The anti-choice movement, the pro-choice but anti-abortion group, and the pro-abortion group. I stand proudly as a member of the latter and with good reason. It is the only choice that allows not only for freedom of choice for the individual, but also alleviates the depression and anxiety over having an abortion by the patient.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

God's Role in Castastrophe

While thousands of fans waited for the main act to start on the main stage at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis Saturday night, a sudden and catastrophic gust of wind blew up and caused the rigging of the stage to collapse. It took two seconds for the scaffolding, which held up numerous lights and speakers, to crash to the ground. Several people were killed and many were injured.

Within moments, Twitter and Internet forums were abuzz with people urging prayer for the victims and their families. "PRAY, PRAY, PRAY for all the victims and families. That's all we can do," one post said. I know there is a sense of helplessness in situations like this. People want to help, but they don't know how or are not in a situation where they can. But what good does urging people to pray, or prayer itself for that matter, do?

You're going to send prayers to a god to help victims that he caused or allowed to become victims to begin with? Things like this are often called acts of God. So if God caused the stage to collapse on people, why would he then help them just because someone prayed? If God merely allowed it to happen, the same question still applies.

Unlike God, the good people who attended the concert ran to assist the survivors after the collapse. It was heartwarming to see people rush to the stage without thought for their own safety in order to save those who were trapped underneath. That wasn't God; it was humanity.

Of course some survivors are quick to thank God for their survival. How many TV interviews are there during which survivors thank their god for letting the scaffolding miss them and their families? Aren't they just so special? God reached his hand down from heaven and saved them from disaster and they are so grateful for it. But what about the people in the row next to them that were trapped under the stage with bones broken? Or what about the stagehands that were killed during the collapse? They must have lived dreadfully sinful lives for God not to have reached down and push them out of the way, too, right? I know people don't mean to be impudent, but they need to think before they speak. People don't have God figured out. They assume that if they survive a close call it must be because of God's or their guardian angel's protection. Isn't it more reasonable to believe that it was a matter of mere chance?

Why is it that God's behavior always looks exactly as though it was caused by chance? Could it be that maybe things really do just happen by chance and that God has nothing at all to do with it? Why does God always get the thanks for anything good that happens, but he never gets the blame for anything bad. Bad things are caused by Satan, or by demons, evil forces, or sin. God always gets a pass. Maybe bad things happen as punishment or because they are simply parts of God's plan that we don't understand. It's all a giant cop-out. People cannot conceive of why God would allow disasters to happen, but they know he is supposed to be all good, so they make up excuses for him.

These people need to face reality. If God does exist, he certainly does not care one bit for you, me, or anyone else. If he did, events that take place wouldn't always look so random. If it is impossible to tell the difference between random chance and God's behavior patterns, then one must realize that God is not interacting with us at all. That means he's either a deistic god or he doesn't exist. Either way, there's no need to pray to him.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Could the Bible be Used as Evidence in Court?

Billions of Christians from all over the world use the bible, and specifically the New Testament, as a basis for their faith. Some of them, the evangelicals, believe that the bible is not only a guide for their faith, but is literally the word of God and totally inerrant. They have no problem whatsoever in believing everything the bible says, despite its many contradictions and obvious mistakes in geography, history, and science. But despite some people’s unconditional faith that the bible is true, could it actually be used as evidence in a court of law? Could the bible be introduced as confirming evidence that Jesus was the Son of God who performed miracles and rose from the dead? Could it be used as evidence that God even exists?

Well let’s take a look at the rules of evidence for a criminal trial. According to Vincent Bugliosi, author and famous trial attorney, hearsay evidence cannot be admitted. The bible is clearly hearsay evidence because it is not relying on direct testimony from witnesses. The bible is composed of copies of copies of manuscripts that are long lost.

But even if we allow it latitude as hearsay evidence, there are more challenges to overcome. According to Bugliosi, before a piece of indirect evidence is allowed in, it must be authenticated. In other words, before a judge would allow a recording, a hand-written note, or a manuscript to be introduced as evidence, its authenticity as actually having been produced by its author must be verified. The authenticity of a hand-written note, for example, might be verified by a handwriting analysis. But how do we authenticate the bible? The short answer is, we can’t.

Take the four Gospels, for example. We can eliminate Mark and Luke almost immediately. Neither of them were disciples. They were not eyewitnesses to anything Jesus did or said. So their testimony is plainly hearsay. Couple that with the fact that no independent source can verify Luke or Mark as the authors of those Gospels. Their names are attached, but no claim is ever made of the authorship.

So let’s move on to Matthew and John. They were of Jesus’ disciples. So if they had written the Gospels, they could be counted as eyewitnesses to at least some of the claims about Jesus. But the Gospel of Matthew suffers from the same lack of corroboration as Luke and Mark. No one knows for sure that Matthew was the author. And many have argued that Matthew could not have authored it since he was most likely illiterate. And much of his text can be shown to be historically inaccurate. If it is inaccurate in some places, its trustworthiness is put into serious question.

That leaves us with John. Again, nobody knows for sure that John the disciple actually wrote the Gospel of John. Here, a claim is made of its authorship. But John was written around 90 – 100 CE. That means that if John did write it, he was very old and possibly senile. Speculation is that it may have been written by a close acquaintance who knew him and who took the liberty of writing for him. But even if that is so, it simply means that the book of John is entirely hearsay. We’re taking the word of an acquaintance of a man in his nineties telling stories that he remembers from a perspective decades after they happened. That means none of the Gospels can be authenticated. The faithful believe them because they want to believe them, nothing more.

What about the letters of Paul? Can they be authenticated? Well, of the 14 epistles attributed to Paul, seven of them can be thrown out of court almost immediately. When there is a question of authenticity, sometimes an expert witness is brought in to clear things up. In this case, the experts would be bible scholars. And almost all bible scholars agree that at least three of Paul’s epistles are not authentic. They are First and Second Timothy and Titus. Hebrews is anonymous but has traditionally been included as Pauline in origin. Most scholars believe, in fact, it was not written by Paul. The authorship of three other epistles is seriously questioned by scholars: Ephesians, Colossians, and Second Thessalonians. That leaves seven epistles that are generally agreed upon as being written by Paul.

So can we at least use these seven letters? No, not likely. The thing is, even if the letters are authentic, they are not written by an eyewitness. Paul did not witness any of the things he writes about. He, instead, relies on an obscure vision. How many courts do you think would allow someone’s hallucination in as evidence of a crime? Christians believe that what he saw was real and not a hallucination, but since we don’t have Paul available to question, a judge would be hard pressed to assume anything other than natural causes for Paul’s visions.

So even allowing some latitude for hearsay, the fact is that the bible cannot come close to being authenticated as bona fide evidence admissible in a court of law. Given its questionable authorship, the number of times it has been copied, the lack of any original manuscripts, and its fantastical claims of supernatural powers, it’s an amazement to me that anyone gives it any credence at all. It’s worth repeating: People believe the bible for one and only one reason – because they want to.