Ideological selfishness?

An acquaintance wrote a frustrated post today about the abortion debate as it’s been playing out in Arizona of late. There’s a law that women must wait 24 hours between requesting an abortion and coming in for the operation, after being informed of the risks and consequences involved. This law is being contested. She writes:

My comment [on the AZ Star website]: “First of all I agree with those who say this shouldn’t be an issue needing to be discussed. Unfortunately, it now needs to be because of the selfish “me” minded liberals who have brought it to court. Therefore we need to bring back a moral ground. Otherwise this country will have nothing to stand on. A woman had the right to choose whether she would engage in sex must deal with the consequence. Not take the life of an innocent baby. Many of you are forgetting the rights of that baby. What if your mom decided to abort you? You wouldn’t have any rights right now because you would be dead. In no way does this law keep a woman from having an abortion. It keeps them from making a hasty unwise decision that they my regret later.”

Liberal’s response: “It isn’t an issue with you and shouldn’t be. If you do not choose to have [an abortion]…….. guess what? You don’t have to. This is an issue of you keeping your nose out of MY BUSINESS. The same as you should keep your nose out of everyones bedrooms too. I don’t tell you what you can do and you don’t tell me or anyone else. PERIOD!”

Read more…

There, in a brief and heated form, is the heart of much of the American debate. Christians want to “bring back the moral high ground” from the obtuse and selfish liberals, and nihilists don’t see any high ground to be brought back – the Christians must just be prying in other people’s business. There are, of course, other dichotomies out there – America is too “diverse” for it to be otherwise within a two party system, and they usually find some place in the “liberal” vs “conservative” debate, often with feelings of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” but this is the argument that seems to come up most often.

I don’t know anything about this person’s life, but I doubt that she’s selfish on purpose. It seems more likely that the post-Christian world leaves few choices except the Cause or the Self. Even a cursory look at how the Causes of the 20th Century have worked out suggests that the Self is a much safer and possibly even more moral choice. As David B Hart writes, we are left with Christ or Nothing (literally “the Nothing,” which is both nothing and a force at the same time, the way evil is). Having never been nihilist I can’t say for sure what it involves, but considering what kind of being humans are, I would imagine it to be rather like despair, where we cannot really be “in communion” with each other, but we ought at least try not to destroy each other. There’s no logical reason to suppose babies to be persons without a certain understanding of God and being made in His Image, so the default tends to be that what makes people special is rationality – that’s the standard the pre-Christian Greeks used, and has something to do with how moderns look at things – sometimes outright, as I heard articulated by a classmate a few months back, the writer of I am a Strange Loop, and sporadically elsewhere, and sometimes confusedly, as when people suppose that a baby becomes a person when it is born – but perhaps only because it is a potential person, but is no longer part of its mother’s body.

That was confused – it would take either a much more articulate writer or a great deal more space to say it properly – but essentially I believe Christians assume commonalities of outlook that simply do not and cannot exist. Exposing babies was accepted in ancient Greece and Rome; it was not accepted in Christian nations; it seems to be becoming more accepted again in the post-Christian West (and China, but it’s got its own thing going on, apparently more like a pre than post Christian society).

On the whole it seems a little ungenerous on both sides to allow people to believe whatever they want as long as those beliefs to not affect them in any substantial way. For Christians to be alright with nihilists disbelieving in any specialness about humans outside of consciousness and intellect, as long as they do not act on that, and treat the irrational or pre-rational as being less than humans is about as problematic as for nihilists to be alright with Christians believing that humans are immeasurably valuable, whether rational or not, and that we have the freedom to destroy our souls for all eternity, and not to do whatever is in their power to prevent people from destroying babies and their own souls.

But we’re American. We cannot admit the possibility that cannot necessarily agree on political matters if we do not agree on what it is to be human; that while we have been fortunate in having different faiths and ideologies coexist peacefully in country for several hundred years, that is not always and everywhere the case – and not merely because some people are wicked, but also because people do not necessarily agree on what wickedness entails, or what the high ground consists of. I don’t see how it’s necessarily helpful to blame a person for selfishness if they do not first accept that there’s something outside of the self that demands allegiance.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to do something about abortion, or anything else. But we cannot proceed under the assumption that those who oppose Christian morality do so simply out of bad character, when really they know better – because perhaps they don’t.


2 thoughts on “Ideological selfishness?

  1. there is also the idea, just to throw it into the mix, as I am not going to try to substantiate it, that there are things which we cannot not know–the law is written on the heart–so maybe it is not self-righteousness or ignorance on the part of some Christians, as obnoxious as they may seem–that compels them to see their opponents as benighted, not just ignorant. Your post was long and I read it quickly (having only a limited amount of time to reply to it–it was so interesting I just wanted to put my 2cents worth into the discussion) so I apologize if I said something you already covered.

    • That is the standard argument against my take, to be sure. What got me started thinking about it the other way, though, was Socrates in the Republic suggesting that babies that were born to the wrong people, or at the wrong time, should be either given to the peasants or exposed, and he didn’t seem to much care which. And it’s made clear that Socrates was neither immoral nor selfish so far as he could help it – but ha did have a different set of prioreties than Christians do.

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