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Friday, November 30, 2007

Abortion Is Not Murder

And none of the Republican candidates think so.

Question, if a mother takes her six month old child to a doctor, and the doctor carries out her wish to kill that child, who should be punished for this, and what penalty should that person receive.

Answer, they are both guilty of murder. They should be sentenced to life in prison or put to death in accordance with the laws of the state in which this action occurred.

Does anyone disagree with that answer? Would any candidate answer any differently?


I've written before that it is ridiculous to claim that life begins at the point of birth. In fact, I've noted that the whole idea that life begins at a single point is wrong. And I find it very frustrating when liberals and abortion rights activists act like this is not a difficult question.

However, I've grown equally intolerant of the claim that abortion is murder. Even politicians courting the votes of a party that has made criminalizing abortion a top priority since the 1980's can't bring themselves to take that notion one step beyond a slogan. People may believe abortion is wrong. They do not believe it is murder.

Am I wrong?

The Power to Change

Last night I had the privilege of attending an event put on by the Arizona Advocacy Network titled the Long Shadow of Jim Crowe. The speaker was retired Superior Court Judge Penny Willrich . Judge Willrich related to the group a story about running into her aunt during a get out the vote drive. Her aunt told her she couldn't vote because she couldn't afford the poll tax. This was in 1978--many years after the poll tax was no longer in force. Happily, her aunt voted in every election after that.

Judge Willrich discussed many of the barriers to voting not just for minorities, but the poor, the elderly, and new voters. Consider the tragically limited impact of the Civil War and the 15th Amendment on Black access to the political process.

Mississippi also enacted a "grandfather clause" that permitted registering anyone whose grandfather was qualified to vote before the Civil War. Obviously, this benefited only white citizens. The "grandfather clause" as well as the other legal barriers to black voter registration worked. Mississippi cut the percentage of black voting-age men registered to vote from over 90 percent during Reconstruction to less than 6 percent in 1892. These measures were copied by most of the other states in the South.
Race & Voting in the Segregated South. Remarkably, just prior to the civil rights movement, the same source reports only 7 percent of Blacks in Mississippi were registered to vote.

That all changed following the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other activists did what the Civil War and the Fifteenth Amendment could not do. They changed the hearts of the American people. The work is not done, but voter suppression today has to take much more subtle forms and could never reduce Black participation as dramatically as the work of the KKK and Jim Crowe laws did in the 1890's. Not because we have better legal safeguards in place, or because activists are more outraged now than in the 1860's, but because the body politic no longer accepts open discrimination of Blacks.

I make that point because I think it informs the path to political change elsewhere. (BTW I am NOT saying the work is done with regard to racism.) I think this is an opportunity for the church to provide the moral compass in movements to go beyond political rationale to reach to the moral imperative behind protecting God's creation, protecting the weak within our borders, promoting human dignity in the treatment of our prisoners, and promoting peace in our dealings with other nations.

Shoud the Church provide the "Why" to the What & How of political change? Who else can provide the reason and motivation for change?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dogmatic Minimalism

Last night my wife and I were discussing the Trinity. The Disciples of Christ professes to have "no creed but Christ," and therefore, it is not surprising that some in our church do not accept the doctrine. In the discussion, I realized that, despite my liberal theology, I tend to keep standard beliefs as long as I can. So, I'm slow to reject the Trinity. I tend think that these ideas that remain after thousands of years of Christian thinking & praying are likely to contain some truth, and I try to seek out that truth.

Now, at some point I can no longer accept an idea. Most recently this was the case with a very narrow, but significant, aspect of intercessory prayer. I have come to the conclusion that I do not believe that praying to God will cause God to miraculously (which is to say in violation of the rules that govern our physical universe) act. Like I said, it is a narrow conclusion. But I only came to it after much searching for a way to preserve the long held notion that God can grant requests for extra-natural intervention.

There is a legal philosophy that I fell in and out of love with while in law school called judicial minimalism. The idea is that judges should only do what is absolutely necessary to decide the case before them, and no more. Cass Sunstein is a the poster child for the seemingly value neutral movement. I think my caution in rejecting a dogmatic principle I once accepted, or that many Christians accept, is a religious analog to judicial minimalism.

Are you slow to reject an old belief? Will you work hard to maintain a dogma (spiritual or otherwise), or do you think after the scale in your mind tips to 51% against the idea you reject it?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wondering Aloud

This post has no study behind it. It is just a wondering. I wonder if the rate of abortions, divorces and violent crime typically rise together. I wonder if they are related to despair. I also wonder if despair is more driven by absolute economic well-being, i.e. how well are your physical necessities are met, and how much time for recreation you have, or whether it is more driven by disparity in wealth, i.e. how good is your life compared to your neighbors.

Just wondering.

[Probably as helpful as Larry Summers' wondering about women, math, and physiology. see this, and this. (The second one has what he actually said.)]

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Do the ends justify the means?

It seems to me that a very prominent theme in the the Sermon on the Mount is that it isn't enough to do the right thing, but you have to do things for the right reasons. Doesn't it follow from that, that you can't do the wrong thing for the right reason? Maybe.

What about value neutral behaviors? I'm thinking about filibusters or other parliamentary procedures. Specifically, I'm thinking about efforts to win the presidential elections by restructuring the allocation of electoral college votes in a particular state. In 2004, the Democrats were hot to do it in Colorado. This year, the Republicans are trying the same thing in California. Basically, the technique goes like this, find a state that typically goes to the opposite party. Then suggest a more "fair" way to allocate electoral college votes so that your party get a portion of the votes.

I thought the Colorado measure was obnoxious, but secretly hoped it would pass. I am now, and have always been a partisan. I find the California measure obnoxious, and am not publicly hoping it will not pass. But at the hear of it all, it seems the energy should be spent arguing one's case for how to run the country.

Should we be uncomfortable with these types of measures, or is it just part of the game like Get Out the Vote (GOTV) or negative advertising?

[BTW, 'The ends justifies the means,' seems to come from Matthew Prior, 1701, although everyone from Leon Trotsky to Orrin Hatch has put his own spin on it.]