The Journey series
This week’s Mustard Seed looks at the right to life in light of James 2:15-16. If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
Surely, if there is a right to life, there is a right to the minimum necessities to sustain it. A person’s right to life hasn’t been observed if they are deprived of food, water, shelter, or clothing. I would add to these the right to belong and, for children, to be nurtured. I believe this is innately, even if not consciously, understood by all. I believe it to be at the root of the debate on abortion. The right to life is not fully achieved at birth; the child must be nurtured and nourished for many more years. Someone must assume responsibility for a child’s life from birth to maturity. That is the traditional role of the family.
I recall from my teens that we well understood the cause and effect relationship between sexual activity and pregnancy. People were less willing to take the risk and more willing to accept the consequences. Our desires were curbed by the relatively high probability of severe consequences.
There were still occasions when hormones overrode intellect. Scientist went to work solving that problem, as it is wont, by reducing the risk and removing the consequences; contraception and abortion were born. Scientific methods isolate relevant factors and insulate them from contingencies. The goal was simplified to avoidance of an unwanted birth. The sequence; release of ovum, introduction of spermatozoa, uterine implantation, gestation, and birth; was examined. If any one of these stages is interrupted birth is prevented. Mechanical and biological interventions were developed for each of these stages. The scientific goal was met, but at what cost? The biological chain was broken but the emotional, psychological, and sociological chains still bind.
Science told us how but has no say in whether. Several moral dilemmas arose. Is it right to intervene in procreation? What are the consequences? Is a foetus a person with inherent rights? How do the rights of the child balance against the rights of the mother? Who ought rear the children of unwanted pregnancies? What happens when what ought happen doesn’t happen?
Contraception removes fecundity from sexual consideration. A woman’s fertility cycle becomes moot. The context of family dies. Commitment dissolves. Sex is reduced to a few moments’ pleasure rather than a venture in a life-long mutual journey. Women are objects of desire and orgasm is a brief ecstasy. Abortion tackles the dilemma of society’s obligation to unplanned children by denying the humanity of the foetus. It removes all future obligations by denying the child the light of day. Health, emotional, psychological, and sociological side effects of abortion are largely disregarded.
Pro-life advocates say the merging of sperm and ovum immediately creates a unique human. Abortion is not an issue of the mother’s autonomy; it’s denial of the unborn child’s right to life. The right to life originates beyond human authority and must be held absolute. In the scales of justice no amount of inconvenience outweighs a life. Occasionally an unborn child will die in an attempt to save the mother’s life but the intent must always be to preserve life.
Many pro-life advocates consider birth a victory. Others recognize that to end there is insufficient and uncharitable. Equal right to life is the very basis of social justice and society must bear the burden of sustaining it. The pro-life battle will not be won until child bearing and rearing receive the same recognition, respect, and resources we give our economy. The gift of life is greater than the gift of things yet family continually cedes ground to commerce.
Science reduced the risk of pregnancy but increased the risk to physical, mental, and societal health. A baby can be prevented or removed from the womb but the culpability of one’s actions remains. The consequences of sexuality were not eliminated; they were merely transformed into less immediate, more subtle, and more devious forms. Accepting our obligations and limitations will bring us more peace faster than continually shunning and skirting them. We can learn to live in harmony with our world or we can fight a continuous battle to bend it to our will. The more we bend the world to our whims the more tension there is to snap back at us. The more paths we open the less clear they become.
Next week: Right to Liberty
This week’s Mustard Seed examines rights. Rights are distinct from privileges. Rights are intrinsic to people simply by virtue of their being. Privileges are granted by one’s community.
The most basic right is the right to life, without which all others are moot. How do we explain such a right?
Science can’t explain rights; it can only observe cause and effect. Matter and energy interact through time and space in predictable ways. Darwinian evolution sees life as a random occurrence retained by competition. The strong flourish and the weak perish. Within species and between species the ultimate goal is survival. Community arises merely to facilitate effective competition. Loyalty depends on success. There is no advocate for the weak. Any right to life contradicts Darwin’s theory.
Rights can only exist where actions are chosen. There must be something beyond the physical, temporal, spatial world that allows the endowed entity to recognize options and select their course. For the right to life to exist there must be something that allows the beholder to recognize the subject as something more than a competitor or fodder. To justify one’s right to life there must be equality; if not, the superior being is just in subjugating the lesser. A scientific examine will see many more inequalities than equalities. The equality of humans exists, also, outside the physical, temporal, spatial reality of our world.
That equality, and the subsequent right to life, exists in our creation in the image of God. We must defer to the wisdom and benevolence of our Creator to explain the equality of each human. If we are mere tosses of the cosmic dice we are doomed to tyranny or extinction. If our Creator is not wise our fate is uncertain. If our Creator is malevolent we are puppets for His amusement. If we are not the subjects of a wise and benevolent Creator our equality, hence our whole moral and legal systems, is illusion.
Next week: More on Rights
This week’s Mustard Seed examines the purpose and function of communities. Humans are not self-sufficient; we need other people. Companionship, effectiveness, efficiency, economy, and interest all lead to cooperation and specialization. People with the requisite complement of skills unite to accomplish tasks, pursue common interests, or react to events.
Our initial communal grouping is family. Barring exceptional circumstances, each of us is born into a family. Children must be nurtured and nourished for many years until they are able to function without guidance and support. Families are bonded by love.
Parents introduce their children to other communities according to the particular child’s physical, psychological, and emotional development. Upon reaching sufficient maturity, the child voluntarily joins communities according to their interests and abilities. These communities are bonded by location and purpose. Once a child is mature enough to leave their parents, location becomes less of a constraint. Some communities arise more by circumstance than intent. Unforeseen events necessitate action from those capable of responding.
Individuals will join many communities. They may also to leave a community if they find it unsuitable to their needs, interests, abilities and beliefs. If a member does not meet expectations the community may expel them.
Communities only survive in solidarity. Members must seek the good of the whole. Members must cooperate with each other. Subordinates must respect their superiors.
Communities thrive in subsidiarity. Resources, authority, and autonomy must be assigned to the lowest effective level of the communal hierarchy to maximize the contributions of the members. Superiors must support and appreciate their subordinates.
Order is maintained in a community through communication. Subordinates must understand expectations and superiors must be kept abreast of progress, problems and, needs. If members pursue self-interests contrary to the good of the whole or if superiors fail to distribute resources and control, the community will fail.
Next week: Rights, obligations, and limits.
This week’s Mustard Seed examines rights in community. A community may be a couple, a family, a group of friends, a workplace, a town, a country, or the world. Small communities are subsets of larger communities.
Communities offer companionship and security; they can also improve efficiency, effectiveness, and economy. The cost of community is a degree of autonomy. To belong to a community one must accept responsibilities, obligations and limitations. Justice is the proper balance of rights between individuals as well as between individuals and the community. For a community to function properly members must adhere to communal standards. Those who disagree with the rules may debate to change the consensus of the community, but they must still defer to the rules until such change is approved — or they must accept consequences.
An eye for an eye may seem a just consequence at first glance. It balances the scales of justice between the two men. Those two men, however, are members of other communities. The taking of the second eye will impair that man in his duty of service to the other communities. An eye for an eye also fails to bring balance in another area, the blinded man’s state before and after the attack. Taking the second man’s eye does not restore the sight of the first man.
Transferring assets that approximate the value of the lost eye from the perpetrator to the victim will serve justice better than mere retribution. The victim will return to an approximately even state and the perpetrator will bear a cost proportionate to his actions. This too, however, is blind to other important factors; ability, intent, motivation, incidental costs, and faith in community. Since their conflict also impacts broader communities it is rightly resolved at the highest level of community materially affected. If their conflict is impossible to resolve within that community help must be sought from the next highest level of community. Arbitrators are assigned, evidence is gathered, the facts are weighed, and judgement is pronounced. The expense of legislators, judges, jurors, and enforcers is born by all members of the community.
Next week: Solidarity and subsidiarity.
After a long hiatus, this week's Mustard Seed returns with vengeance. The concept of an eye for an eye goes back at least to Hammurabi's code of 1771 BC. But does retribution restore justice?
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth may seem fair at first — but is the eye of street-sweeper equal to the eye of a surgeon? Is the tooth of a teen balanced by the tooth of an octogenarian? If a man with five sons kills one of another man’s two, is the second man entitled to slay one of the first man’s sons or half of them? Is that justice for the sons? What of Jean Valjean who stole bread to feed his family? The bread has been eaten; there is nothing for the baker to take in return. An eye for an eye is better viewed as a limit to, rather than a prescription for, retribution.
Politicians debate at great length to create laws which define crimes and determine punishments. Judges hold lengthy trials and deliberate for ages to assess the damage caused, determine the perpetrator's intent, identify any mitigating circumstances, and weigh the need for deterrence. Then appropriate penalties are imposed. Perpetrators tend to find judges too harsh and victims find them too lenient. Even when justice is equitably meted out, overall good diminishes. Once harm has occurred, it cannot be undone. Two wrongs will never make right. In many cases it is impossible for a victim to recover their previous state. Even in cases where direct restitution is possible there are additional real and opportunity costs. Time spent resolving any conflict can never be recovered. The total costs to victim, perpetrator, and society will always exceed any benefit the perpetrator realizes from his crime.
Justice may appear to validate vengeance but no amount of retribution will eradicate the act which earned the debt. Vengeance might balance the scales of justice between immediately involved parties but it will never maximize good.
Next week: A better means of restoring equity.