Archive for applied ethics

Re-evaluating Policy as an Atheist #3: Abortion

Posted in Ethics, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2008 by carriedthecross

Abortion. Perhaps the most hot-button issue among evangelicals.  You don’t have to walk past many cars at my college to see an “Abortion is Murder” bumper sticker.  The Honors Seminar at my school last year did a session on abortion.  The students taking the seminar were required to read a pro-life and a pro-choice article before listening to a speaker on the topic.  One problem: only one side of the issue was honestly presented.  The speaker was an avid and open pro-lifer.  The pro-life article was well written and substantiated.  On the other hand, the pro-choice article looked like it had been ripped out of a 6th grade civics class.  A blatant straw-man, the pro-choice article they chose was filled with spelling and grammatical errors and full of poorly defended claims. 

Why do I mention this?  Because evangelicals are almost unanimously opposed to abortion.  Even the most liberal among them.  When asked about abortion by Barna Group, 94% of evangelicals and 73% of born-agains took the position that abortion should either be illegal in all circumstances or in all but a few special circumstances. 

 abortion.jpg

For much of my time as a Christian, I was firmly planted in the pro-life camp.  As a high school student, I remember railing against abortion as the greatest attack on the sanctity of life since the Holocaust. During college, I became more sympathetic to the pro-choice movement.  It seemed to be an oversimplification of the issue to claim that all abortions were morally wrong.  Most of the arguments I heard from Christians were from the breed of ad populum (in one class, a group presentation once included photos of aborted fetuses; while these photos did little to substantiate their case, it did rile up like minded pro-lifers in the class).

Continue reading

Re-evaluating Policy as an Atheist #2: Torture

Posted in Ethics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2008 by carriedthecross

In the past year in particular, the notion of torture has held an interesting place in American politics. This ambiguous tactic (what exactly is torture, anyway) resurfaces from time to time in American politics. Opinions on the topic of torture have very serious implications for ethics and public policy. As a Christian, I found the idea of torture appalling. Completely repugnant was the idea that a civilized government (or non-governmental organization) would employ the tactics of torture on citizens or foreigners for any reason. Something that still surprises me to this day, I was in the minority opinion (to the best of my knowledge) among my fellow Christians.

So what is torture? Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture define it this way: “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” (emphasis mine)

As a Christian, this issue seemed simple. Under no circumstances would torture be acceptable. The utilitarian concept of using any individual as a means to an end, in this instance, seemed unacceptable. If human life is sacred, after all, under what authority would any man be justified in demeaning that human life? Since I have lived in America my entire life, it is normal form me to interpret issues and events through the paradigm of my national identity. As an American, it seemed almost unpatriotic to surrender the moral high ground and employ those tactics which I might expect from a terrorist abroad.

When I first left the faith, my opinions on this issue did not immediately change. The idea itself is still reprehensible. But utilitarian ethics make more sense to me now. Individuals seem to have potential value rather than innate value. The danger here is that this can become very subjective, but in my eyes Hitler surrendered much of his own rights, liberties, and indeed human value. In much the same way that I believe a nation-state can surrender its rights to sovereignty, I believe an individual can surrender their rights, even to life. Perhaps.

Continue reading