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Straw Man

with 8 comments

So.  I’ve looked over the comments, and they’re interesting in being largely beside the point.

But let me get to them.

First, Michael gives a disquisition not on the fact that we now live in a world with  no moral consensus but on the idea that somebody wants to do away with all laws and regulations and allow people not to pay taxes for any program they don’t like.

But nobody has said any of this, least of all me. 

In the first place, the illustration I gave last time–the mandate that all employers must pay for health insurance for their employees that includes coverage for birth control–is not a tax.

A single payer system would have involved a tax, but there is no single payer system.  (And, note, I’M in favor of a single payer system.)

Medicaid is funded by taxes–and Medicaid in most states covers birth control, with nobody proclaiming any right to opt out of supporting it, on religious or any other grounds.

The requirement that all employers pay for health insurance policies that cover contraception, however, is a mandate that people personally behave in ways contradictory to their religious beliefs.

And you can’t get out from under it by saying that the government can make “general” laws and require religious people to follow them, because the courts have been adamant that you cannot do that if there is any way not to burden the religious with the requirement.

And they do mean any way.  It is a law of general intent that teen agers must stay in school until the age of 16 in most states and the age of 18 in some, but the Amish are not required to send their children to high school nevertheless.   

The “free exercise of religion” does not mean that everybody gets to stay at home in private and pray.  It means that people may practice their religion right out in the open where the rest of us can see it, including doing things and saying things that the rest of us do not approve.

In fact, it includes religious people doing and saying things that many of us find morally repugnant.

Contrary to what a lot of people like to argue, the separation of Church and State does not mean, and never meant, that nobody should talk about religion in the public square or base her vote on her religious principles or ask people to vote them into office because of those religious principles.

It means, in fact, exactly the opposite–that the government may not prohibit you from doing any of those things. 

If you look back into the history of the idea of the separation of Church and State in the US, what you find is Thomas Jefferson outraged that a  young woman was legally prohibited from giving her religious views in public because they contradicted the opinions of the Episcopal Church.

In other words, Jefferson was not attempt to take religious speech out of the public sphere.  He was trying to insure there would be more of it.

It’s also a little exasperating to get this continual hysteria about how, if I want government prevented from interfering in SOME parts of my private life, that I must be in favor of government having no laws or regulations at all–by people who agree that government should be prevented from interfering in SOME parts of their private lives.

Virtually every single person who makes the “you want anarchy and Somlia!” argument to me is passionately determined that the government has no right to interfere with a woman’s decision to have an abortion–that is, they say, her right to privacy.

It is beyond my comprehension why a “right to privacy” includes my decision to have or not have an abortion, but does not include my decision about what to eat and feed my children and what I weigh, for instance. 

Nor do I understand why my rights to do process should disappear in family court, or my rights to freedom from double jeopardy should disappear in such a way that I can be declared guilty by a civil court after I have been declared not guilty by a criminal one.

And there’s a lot more like that. 

Limits on the power of government are, in general, a good thing. 

And they’re nothing like anarchy.

As to the issue brought up by–redhead?  I really love red hair, but I’m  not sure that’s the way you want to be referred to–

Anyway, there are two different issues here.

First is the religious one.  There are clear indications of a condemnation of contraception in Catholic moral teaching going back to the 2nd Century–that’s the 100s. 

And that teaching has been consistent.

In other words, it is not possible to practice Catholicism and support, abet or practice birth control.

No such moral prescription exists in Catholic teaching about the use of aphrodisiacs. 

Catholics can in fact provide Viagra without violating their religious beliefs.

Is that sexist?


But it doesn’t matter. 

Catholicism represents a lot of moral principles we now find sexist, and most other religions include moral principles that at least some of us find morally repugnant.

The government is not allowed to force us to violate those principles, or to require us to do it in secret where nobody else can see us and where we can have no effect on the wider culture. 

And that’s why a country with no single moral consensus is such an uncomfortable place to live, and why the lack of such a consensus cannot last for long.

Our understand of morality–of right and wrong–is, for most of us, central to our understanding of ourselves as human beings.  It is a vital and uncompromisable part of who and what we are.

A country with a solid moral consensus can in fact allow some deviations from that central understanding without doing any real harm to itself–that’s why the Amish aren’t sending their children to high school and nobody is very much worried about it.

But for a country without such a consensus, every deviation from one of the moral codes is a threat to that code. 

And the threat is real in the long term–there WILL be a moral consensus in this country again, but it’s unclear at present whether that consensus will look more like Catholicism or like liberalism.

It is therefore vitally important for people on both sides to try to insure that the other side does not have a chance to spread its ideas, and that government policy tacitly supports THEIR moral opinion and not the other.

Actually neutral policies are the last thing either side wants, although they’ll settle for that rather than have the other side’s ideas imposed on them.

Written by janeh

June 19th, 2012 at 9:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses to 'Straw Man'

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  1. This is really a very small side note to your larger argument, but I was caught by your comments about the Catholic church’s position on contraception and other matters surrounding reproduction. Call me cynical but I’ve long held this sneaking suspicion that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.


    19 Jun 12 at 10:41 am

  2. Well, here’s the thing.

    It’s possible that the Catholic Church’s position on contraception would be different if the Church was run by women–or maybe not.

    We can’t know, and another part of the first amendment is that the government isn’t even supposed to ask.

    It doesn’t matter if religious people are hypocritical. It doesn’t matter if their beliefs are based on ouiji boards or chicken entrals. It doesn’t matter.

    Saying that the Constitution grants religious people the right to live by their beliefs–the free exercise of their religion–is not saying we approve of those beliefs or that we think the people who hold them are sincere.

    It just doesn’t matter.

    I find quite a lot of Catholicism objectionable, which is probably why I’m an atheist and not a Catholic.

    But I have no right to insist that they toe my line, any more than they have a right to insist that I toe theirs.

    (And no, not covering contraception in their health insurance does not demand that other people toe their line–it just says that you can do what you want, but they don’t have to pay for it.)

    For what it’s worth, I think the decision not to allow Utah into the nation unless they gave up polygamy was wrong. I will admit that it’s a good example of what happens when you have an overwhelming moral consensus.

    For the country at the time, the idea that polygamy might be morally acceptable was simply and overwhelmingly unthinkable.

    And, of course, we do proscribe some things–human sacrifice, for instance–but those things are far on the edges of the extremes, tend to be places we do still have an overwhelming moral consensus, and are rigidly defined by the courts.

    In general, the courts err on the side of religious liberty. Muslims can send their children to madrassahs instead of public schools and the government cannot tell those schools what to teach (see Pierce vs Society of Sisters, 1925). Parents whose faith rejects vaccination or even any form of standard medicine have religious exemptions to state child abuse and neglect laws (in most states) even if the child dies as a result.

    Free exercise of religion means free exercise of religion, not “free exercise of those parts of religion we approve of.”

    The point is that we’re not going to approve of it, most of the time. That’s why it needs to be protected.


    19 Jun 12 at 11:11 am

  3. I don’t think the RC stand on abortion has anything at all to do with their male hierarchy. It’s quite possible to disagree entirely with their positions, but when you read up on the thinking that lead to their positions, it’s always logical. It’s possible to disagree with their premises and disagree with their conclusions, but they never seem to resort to emotional or irrational ideas when moving from one to another.

    For the Catholic hierarchy to consider abortion merely morally neutral would require them to change not their gender but their convictions about the definition of life and human being, plus their beliefs about how to treat all living creatures and, specifically, humans.

    I can’t imagine any Catholic coming to the conclusion that abortion is a sacrament. Just look at the Catholic definition of a sacrament: “the sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.”


    19 Jun 12 at 12:24 pm

  4. Several thoughts…

    It would be ideal, of course, if each of us had access to health care *as defined by ourselves.* So Jehovah’s Witnesses could have health care but not blood transfusions, Catholics could have health care but not contraceptives or abortions, and those of us who want all of the above can have them.

    My major beef is not the exercise of someone else’s religion on themselves, but their attempted exercise of THEIR religion on MYSELF, through legislation or domestic terrorism or the creeping evil of restricting access to reproductive health care a bit at a time, making what is legal inaccessible and thus moot.

    The religious misogynists who want to exercise control over MY uterus and vagina because of their beliefs are way out of bounds. Now soldiers raped in the course of duty have to pay for abortions themselves, if they can even get access to them wherever they’re stationed. Now entire states (Mississippi and Tennessee) are going to be without a single functional abortion clinic, so the question of who pays is singularly meaningless.

    In fact, the issue of payment IS a straw man. We all pay, through taxes and purchases of insurance, for things that may be repugnant to us AND our religious beliefs. Amish may not send their children to school, but I guarantee their taxes pay for other people’s children to attend, and their taxes also pay for the military, with which they will have nothing to do.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses (as employers or employees contributing) pay for insurance plans that DO provide blood transfusions, even if they don’t avail themselves of such procedures. What if an employer didn’t want to provide for heart surgery, believing that it’s a sacred organ and cannot be touched? Do prospective employees then go out and purchase a “heart surgery only” policy, supposing such a thing existed? Perhaps they have to add something for gall bladders and spleens, too. Ridiculous. Pay for the damn insurance, all or nothing as the employer wants to provide, and GET OUT OF EMPLOYEE’S MEDICAL DECISIONS.

    It’s a huge mess, and as much as I LOATHE the thought of government administering and paying for all medical care, because of the waste of money in bureaucracy, that may be the best and only way to go, IF and only if we can keep religion out of the decisionmaking process for all of us.

    After all, there are people who believe that old people should just die and get out of the way of the young. Do we want them making decision on what geriatric medical care is provided? Or people who believe in infanticide up to two years old deciding what post-natal care is provided?

    Much of this reproductive care controversy has NOTHING to do with the practice of religion and everything to do with the control and domination of women. A man who can’t hear the word “vagina” said out loud is a perfect example. They hate and fear the power of women, and use religion as a weapon to try to cow us all. Moo. Not.


    19 Jun 12 at 2:36 pm

  5. In the case of abortion, preventing someone who believes abortion is murder from doing their best – and maybe succeeding – in having it outlawed is exactly the same thing as preventing someone who believes that imposing the death penalty is murder from doing their best to have it outlawed.

    I tend to agree that paying for things one is morally opposed to is more of a tactic than a core issue, but in the kind of country I’d like to live in, everyone has the right to fight for their beliefs, even the ones I despise, and even the ones I think may be attributed to the pyschosexual problems of those holding the beliefs.

    But I also think that the conviction that our own personal choices must not in any way impinged on by anyone else (and, in extreme cases, must be given the force of law by appeals to those positive rights) is guaranteed to cause extensive division and polarization in a society, perhaps so extensive a division that the society cannot continue to exist as a whole entity. It’s one of those paradoxes – ultimate freedom of choice by the individual will destroy the very society that made such an aim conceivable. So, of course, can a rigid adherance to group standards that squash all minority beliefs and opinions. Frankly, I don’t see a solution. All cultures change, and so with yours and ours, but I don’t see it achieving some kind of lasting society with both a strong common core and strong respect for individual freedoms.


    19 Jun 12 at 6:24 pm

  6. Cheryl says: “In the case of abortion, preventing someone who believes abortion is murder from doing their best – and maybe succeeding – in having it outlawed is exactly the same thing as preventing someone who believes that imposing the death penalty is murder from doing their best to have it outlawed.”

    I’ve heard this again and again and the politest way I can put this is: That turns out not to be the case. Or bullshit. Your choice.

    Trying to prevent abortions is NOT the same as trying to prevent executions. A cancelled execution doesn’t leave some woman to carry a convicted felon to term, and then either raise him or give him away. For some reason, the WOMAN is always forgotten in this false equivalency. It’s all about the potential human, not the living, breathing one.

    What trying to prevent abortion (for whatever reason) is exactly like, is telling someone that because they match another person who needs transplants or blood, they MUST, no matter the risk of pain and death to themselves, donate blood, kidneys, lungs, bone marrow, whatever is needed, whether they wish to or not. Take the time for the surgery or extraction, suffer the pain and debility, risk death on the table.

    In the past, that principle has been judged to be false. No human is legally obliged to become the support system for another, even if that other person will die, EXCEPT A PREGNANT WOMAN. Trying to prevent a great wrong (and don’t kid yourself, I do believe that abortion is a great wrong, to be avoided whenever possible, but sometimes tragically necessary) to one entity does NOT justify committing another great wrong to an already existing human being.

    The lack of compassion for women who do need abortions is just breathtaking. There’s a heartbreaking story I read (I know, it’s an anecdote, but every abortion is an individual with a story) where a woman found out, at 19 weeks, her fetus might be abnormal. The testing took another 2 weeks, and she found out her baby was anencephalic, without a brain, doomed to die within hours of birth. This testing could not have been done earlier in pregnancy.

    At 21 weeks, she’d be prevented by this new Michigan law from aborting. What broke my heart was her pain talking about how she’d be forced to carry to term, knowing her baby was doomed, while her belly grew, and people opened doors and smiled at her and did all those things people do around pregnant women, and she’d be dying inside. That kind of pain inflicted because somebody thinks “abortion is murder” is just unconscionable. Oh, and perhaps there’d be some consideration that every term pregnancy carries a non-zero risk of death at delivery. But no. Not so much.

    Guess what? I think abortion is murder too. Abortions should be reduced to an absolute minimum by full access to contraception, reproductive counseling, sex-education, pre-natal care, and all those other things that the anti-abortion noodles want to kill as well. But I count a woman’s right to control her own body over the right of anyone or anything to use her as a support system. Even if the fetus dies. I also think that healthy fetuses that are aborted after the point of viability ought to be saved the same way premature births are saved. It’s a tough position. It’s really difficult to look unflinchingly at the whole issue and say, “yes, it’s murder. And sometimes, it’s necessary.”


    19 Jun 12 at 11:09 pm

  7. Lymaree, I’m familiar with your argument, and I know at least some of the tragedies that can be associated with childbirth. Your argument (and Jane’s, if I recall her position correctly) that a human being shouldn’t be forced to put themselves at the service of another is the best one I’ve encountered in support of abortion, but it’s not good enough. It all comes down to whether or not the fetus is a human or a potential human. You think it is an ‘entity’ and ‘potential human’. I think it is human – and I don’t think murder of a human can be allowed without devaluing the lives of all humans.


    20 Jun 12 at 5:24 am

  8. OK, had to go and take care of something.

    I was going to add – this is why such differences are so destructive to society, especially when people on either of the main sides (there are usually more than two views) wants to enlist the law to ensure their view wins.

    On this particular issue – did you know Canada hasn’t had a law on abortion for years? The last one was struck down and no government since has wanted to tackle the issue. So I’m not terribly happy that abortion is essentially accepted, but of course I can support alternative solutions for some of the problems that sometimes lead to abortion. People who support abortion aren’t terribly happy because, in general, only the major hospitals in the public system offer abortions – but they can support one of their heros, who has seen to it that private clinics are set up in most if not all provinces.

    It must be something like that for pro and anti death penalty people in the US, particularly in states that have the death penalty.

    But you can’t have that kind of stalemate if both sides are determined to eliminate the other at all costs.


    20 Jun 12 at 6:09 am

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