Category: Humanism

Fighting Feminism with Fallacies

I have watched with alarm over the past several months as a growing number of atheists who fancy themselves Rational Critics of Islam™ have taken to coupling criticism of that religion with attacks on western feminists.  Take, for example, the recent hashtag #SaveDinaAli, a worthy cause in its own right.  Dina Ali is a young Saudi woman who attempted to flee her country’s system of male guardianship, but was intercepted in the Philippines by male relatives who beat her and forced her to return to Saudi Arabia where her fate remains uncertain.  A number of prominent atheists decided to use the hashtag not only to raise awareness about Dina’s plight, but to exploit it in an attempt to shut down western feminist voices.

Yep, ain’t no feminists west of Saudi who care about anything but video games. #SeemsLegit
Sorry, unless it involves death and Islam, file under #FakeNews.
Always, as in 100% of the time, without exception, ever, no citation required because I’m a Certified Rationalist Skeptic(TM).
 

To start with, it should matter to these so-called rational thinkers that such statements are flagrant logical fallacies (strawmanrelative privation, and hasty generalization, to be exact).  This should send up red flags about their rationalism bona fides at the very least, given that sound argumentation was once considered a necessary skill in the atheism toolkit and a person would have to be either appallingly bad at or simply not care about logic to be packing the same three fallacies into tweet after tweet.

It also calls into serious question the authenticity of one’s advocacy for Dina Ali if out of 140 characters ostensibly intended to raise awareness of her situation, a person can spare only 12 for Dina and is compelled to use the other 128 to express contempt for an entire subset of women. Honestly, it takes some spunk to declare yourself a savior of Saudi women when you can’t even write a single tweet that expresses only support for them and nothing else—not to mention gross ignorance about how advocacy works to think that shitting on one cause is necessary to advance another.  Remember that ad campaign by the American Cancer Society where they declared that the parents of premature babies who give money to the March of Dimes are selfish, privileged assholes who want people to die of cancer? Me neither.

What troubles me the most about this trend is how it seeks to set western women as adversaries against their sisters in the Muslim world, exploiting the troubles of the latter simply as a vehicle for tearing down the former.  “Western women have it so easy,” they say. “Western women have no problems.  They’re too self-involved and too obsessed with petty grievances to care about the oppression of women in the Middle East.”  Of course plenty of western women actually do have problems, and not all of them are trivial; so when we hear those accusations and understandably put a hand up to say, “Hold on there, hoss, that’s not quite true,” they seize that objection as proof positive that we in the west think we have it just as bad as women who live under sharia—even though no one has actually said this, or even thinks it.

Silly me, thinking it wasn’t even necessary to compare getting raped to living under male guardianship.

Attacking western feminists who are concerned about, say, the evisceration of women’s healthcare in the US because women in Saudi Arabia live under sharia is exactly the same thing as attacking someone for raising awareness about birth defects because cancer kills more people. By this “reasoning” only the absolute worst atrocities in the world should ever be addressed, in which case curing diseases or fighting Islam would likely not even make the short list.  Moreover, as low as my opinion tends to be about humans in general, even I will admit that most of them are capable of thinking more than one thought at a time. I can be outraged by legislative assaults on women’s bodily autonomy here in the US while at the very same time being outraged by what happened to Dina Ali, and no matter what the anti-feminists claim, I can do something about both of them; I do not have to choose one or the other (and to suggest that I do is yet another logical fallacy). On the other hand, constant attacks that misrepresent and undermine feminism not only do nothing to help women like Dina Ali—they compromise our ability to effect change on important issues closer to home, such as reproductive freedom and pay equity. (I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether that consequence is a feature or a bug.)

Here, though, is what strikes me as the real crux of the issue: Conflating the legal status of women with the lived experiences of individual women.  Literally no one—at least, no one with a shred of intellectual honesty—would argue that in general, women in the West have better legal standing than women in the Muslim world.  That is a given, and the constant accusations by anti-feminists that western women don’t understand this basic truth are simply lies meant to discredit western feminism.  That being said, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the life of every individual western woman is objectively better than the life of every individual Saudi woman, or that the only women who know hardship are those who live under sharia. Crimes like child sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence are not constrained by national or religious borders; they may be treated differently by the legal system and economic status may influence access to treatment resources, but the trauma they inflict on their victims is not so easily predicted, categorized, or dismissed. Said another way, telling a Canadian woman “At least you were just raped and not raped AND stoned for adultery” should strike every reasonable and ethical person as not just lacking in empathy, but as downright cruel in how it both minimizes the violence of her assault and scolds her if she has the audacity to not feel all that lucky.  Moreover, there is absolutely nothing to be gained—least of all for the women that these anti-Islam crusaders purport to fight for—by such attempts to measure and quantify degrees of suffering and assign it more or less validity based on whether it was caused by Islam.

Ungrateful western rape victims just have no idea how EASY they have it! Also, eat your goddamn vegetables – don’t you know there are starving kids in Africa?!
 

It is worth noting that the “yeah, but sharia” brigade that is so eager to silence western women over issues of misogyny that still exist in the West because women in Saudi have it worse seem to have an odd blind spot when the subject is no longer the status of women.  I, for one, struggle to recall any of these same characters shrugging off Milo Yiannopolous being disinvited from speaking engagements on college campuses because Raif Badawi had it a lot worse.

Ladies, do you really have legit problems, or are you just dabbling in oppression? Find out with this one weird trick! Has your clit been lopped off? If so, congratulations! You may be sufficiently oppressed to express an opinion. If not, you’re drowning in privilege. STFU.
Are there things that western feminists get wrong? Absolutely. Are there examples of excessive pearl-clutching over grievances that really are petty?  Of course. Are these challenges unique to western feminism? Not by a longshot.  Do I have to choose between fighting for my sisters at home and my sisters abroad?  Hell no.  I don’t have to choose; I won’t choose; and I will continue to speak out against anyone who says I must.

I Have Some Bad News

turtleThis is a modified and updated version of a similar list I posted in February 2016.  The bad news for some people will be that they see some of their closely held beliefs being contradicted here.  For my part the bad news is that the list is not only still relevant but required an update.  Still, there are some things that simply must be said (and more than once, apparently).

 

  • 9/11 was not an inside job.
  • It wasn’t a “false flag” either.
  • Neither was Sandy Hook.
  • Neither were the shootings in Orlando, Charleston, San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Ft. Hood, or anywhere else.
  • In fact, there is no such thing as a “false flag” (a la Alex Jones).
  • The moon landing really happened.
  • So did the Holocaust.
  • Lizard people aren’t real.
  • Fluoride in the water supply is good for your teeth.
  • The earth is not flat.
  • And it is 4.54 billion years old.
  • And it goes around the sun, not the other way around.
  • There are no chemtrails, just contrails.
  • The Illuminati do not control the music industry.
  • Pizzagate is bullshit.
  • GMOs are just as safe as conventional foods.
  • Organic isn’t healthier.
  • It’s not better for the environment either.
  • Prayer doesn’t work.
  • Astrology doesn’t work either.
  • Neither does homeopathy.
  • But vaccines do.
  • And they don’t cause autism.
  • InfoWars is not news.
  • Alternative medicine is not medicine.
  • Big PharmaTM is not suppressing a known cure for cancer.
  • Including pot.
  • No, seriously – pot does not cure cancer.
  • Everything is made of chemicals.
  • Trump’s inauguration crowd was not the biggest in history.
  • Humans were not healthier 50,000 years ago than they are today.
  • Not 5,000 years ago or 500 years ago either.
  • Guns don’t make you safer.
  • Gay sex does not cause earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, tsunamis, fires, volcano eruptions, landslides, stock market crashes, train derailments, bridge collapses, oil spills, or anything else.
  • There is no Deep State.
  • Taxes are not theft.
  • Microwave ovens don’t turn into cameras.
  • Nuclear power is safe.
  • The Big Bang really happened.
  • And it happened 13.8 billion years ago.
  • Anthropogenic climate change is real.
  • All life on earth evolved from a common ancestor via natural selection.
  • There is no evidence for ghosts, an afterlife, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ancient aliens, alien abductions, reincarnation, telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, precognition, the soul, demons, spirits, angels, witchcraft, or magic.
  • There almost certainly is no god.

 

Let Change Begin With Me

I believe that the only hope for humanity lies in the embrace of evidence-based thinking. Whether the subject is religion or science or politics or anything in between, an earnest desire to ascertain reality demands that we seek the best available evidence, acknowledge our biases, do our best to compensate for them, and be willing to adjust our worldview accordingly. This is necessary even (perhaps especially) when doing so is difficult – in other words, all the time.

Intellectual honesty is uncomfortable. Personal growth usually is too. It is easy to talk ourselves into believing that only others suffer the impairment of cognitive bias, or that we are otherwise exceptional and therefore exempt from the rules we expect others to follow. It feels good to be right and even better to be righteous, whereas admitting fallibility can be awkward, humiliating, or painful. But we must resist the siren song of comforting self-delusion and struggle, however clumsily, to reserve the highest standards for ourselves.

Moving beyond superstition and tribalism isn’t just about the satisfaction of being right: It’s about making the world a better place. It’s about clearing away the excuses and the ignorance that too often get in the way of seeing our common humanity, and finding our way to a more ethical, more moral, more productive society.

This is what I want for my child.

It is what all children deserve.

And so it starts with me.

The Virtueless Troll

Bill Maher compares the execrable Milo Yiannopoulos to the late Christopher Hitchens. No, seriously.

I admit I feel dreadful that I’m investing valuable time and neurons on the likes of the vile hominid Milo Yiannopoulos. However, following his appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday and the inevitable pearl-clutching analysis that followed, my need to throw my own pearls into the fray outweighs my annoyance at needing to do so. So here are my two cents, for what little they’re worth, and I shall henceforth endeavor to not speak his name again. 

1. I’m so tired of the “the only reason Milo Yiannopoulos is so popular is that the Left opposes him so strongly” trope; it’s tired, facile, and intellectually lazy. Perhaps we should consider the possibility that Milo is popular because a lot of people agree with his views and like the fact that he’s utterly shameless and cruel. We really need to stop talking about the Right as if they’re either automatons or toddlers who can neither understand the reasons why they do what they do, nor be held accountable for doing it.
2. Every interview Yiannopoulos ever gives into perpetuity should start with “Why do you think it’s worse for a child rapist to be embarrassed than for a child to be raped?” and end with “Why do you think children who get raped are responsible for their rape?” There’s an awful lot of Milo-apologia that says “Let people hear from both sides & then decide for themselves what they think of him,” but that’s not possible when his hosts help him conceal this ugly aspect of his persona. Failure to remind the audience that this is the kind of “person” they’re dealing with is a failure of journalistic integrity at best, and a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts at worst.
3. That the Right has shackled the principle of free speech to this intellectually & morally bankrupt attention whore is not accidental. They’ve figured out how to portray any objection to Yiannopoulos on any grounds whatsoever as an assault on free speech and “evidence” that the Left is afraid of his ideas. In this manner they badger, bully, & shame their way into ever bigger platforms and ever more influential interlocutors, further legitimizing him and his views. He’s become a bludgeon to do the opposite of no-platforming, a kind of “forced-platforming” in which denying him access to any stage or declining to engage with him for any reason can be held up as just more proof that the Left are the real fascists.

4. Yiannopoulos is not the next Hitch. He’s not even the next Alex Jones.

Ten Books That Will Make You an Anti-Theist

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I don’t think there is any doubt that in the aggregate, religion – not just belief without evidence, but organized, capital-R Religion – has historically been and continues to be a bane to humanity.  One of the reasons this realization escapes so many people is the cultural deference to religion and its ubiquitous portrayal as inspirational, beautiful, comforting, and wholesome.  One must be willing to go out of one’s way to get any exposure to the less attractive aspects and effects of religion – but once one resolves to do so, one discovers that the well of evidence that religion is harmful is deep indeed.

The following books, which I have listed in no particular order, merely scratch the surface of religious malfeasance.  However, they present such damning evidence so persuasively that it would be difficult for any but the most fanatical believer to defend the institutions they expose.  Note: These are not books for making people into atheists – that is an entirely different list.

God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner

It may surprise some readers that my selection of an indictment of the Catholic Church doesn’t involve the child sex-abuse scandal; indeed, there are many compelling (if horrifying) such works from which to choose.  God’s Bankers, however, tells a story that is far less familiar to most of us, and reveals a side of the church that is rarely acknowledged but no less sinister.  From selling indulgences to wealthy nobles to hiding Nazi gold to laundering money for the mafia to ensuring that individual dioceses held all liability for pedophilia lawsuits, the Vatican has consistently put protection and expansion of its financial assets above all other concerns, even while dictating and legislating the morality of its more than one billion followers.  In this exhaustively researched history of Vatican finances Posner offers an up-close examination of the seamy underbelly of what is arguably one of the wealthiest and most powerful – and most corrupt – institutions the world has ever known.

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

For those who are already familiar with Hitchens’s uniquely delightful, scorched-earth approach to defeating theists of all stripes, God is Not Great is more or less a collection of his most famous and irrefutable arguments, though having been written by Hitchens, no amount of repetition can ever be too much.  For those who are less familiar with Hitch, and especially for people newly coming into their own as atheists, God is Not Great will repeatedly make you want to leap out of your chair and shout, “Fuck yeah!”  Not only does Hitchens eviscerate the claims of religion, he lays bare the myriad ways it retards human progress and threatens the very survival of civilization.  (For those of you who prefer to listen to your books, the audio version has the wonderful advantage of being narrated by Hitch himself.)

Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola

This study of atheist clergy, told mostly in the voices of the participants themselves, gives readers a glimpse into the struggles faced by people who pledged themselves to serve god only to eventually realize that there is no such thing.  Trapped by a lack of marketable skills, financial opportunities, and the fear of social rejection – or, in some cases, of the loss of the automatic authority, respect, and stature that comes with the title of Reverend – these individuals struggle with whether and how to leave their ministries and what message to preach in the meantime.  It is difficult not to have both empathy for these men and women who, on the one hand, feel betrayed at the discovery that their religion was not what they had always been taught; and contempt for them on the other hand for feeding their parishioners the same misrepresentations and lies of omission that deceived them in the first place.  In either case, what the authors and the study participants make clear is that church leaders are duping young people into the clergy, and churchgoers themselves are deeply complicit.

Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell by Jack Olsen

John Story was a gentile doctor in a small Mormon community.  Though he was not one of them, he was devout in his own religion and ran his practice authoritatively and with the modern curiosity of an examination table fitted with stirrups, and in short order was one of the most respected and powerful men in town.  In the ensuing decades he sexually abused and raped hundreds of women and girls – people who were kept in ignorance about sex and their own bodies based on scriptural demands for feminine chastity and cowed by strict religious conditioning never to question male authority.  Women and girls who did speak up were swiftly shamed into silence or punished by their LDS leaders.   When enough victims finally came forward, Story’s most vigorous self-defense was his claim of devout religious belief, and his strongest defenders all declared that god was on their side.  Doc is a chilling tale of how fundamentalist religion grooms women to be victims of abuse and provides safe harbor for abusers.

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

From the absurd origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to the disavowal of polygamy that gave rise to the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), Krakauer delivers a devastating blow to whatever claims of respectability the Mormon Church may still have had.  In riveting prose so characteristic of his writing, he weaves the tale of Mormonism’s bloody history with the modern story of two brothers who murdered their sister-in-law and her infant daughter because (so they claimed) god told them to.  Under the Banner of Heaven makes plain how thin the line is between religious devotion and religious fanaticism and how fundamentalism opens the door to unspeakable atrocities committed without remorse.

Beyond Belief:  by Jenna Miscavige Hill

Many of us think of Scientology as a Hollywood eccentricity that commits no real harm, since its adherents are mostly wealthy celebrities wasting their money on spiritual silliness.  I was genuinely shocked at how wrong that perception truly is.  Yes, the doctrine of Scientology is blatantly nonsensical and in many ways laughable and it is difficult to understand the mindset that accepts it as plausible, let alone rational.  But for the lives of people living within Scientology – teaching their classes, running their hotels and restaurants, building and maintaining their properties, and living in their military-style housing under military-style rules – it is an omnipresent, all-powerful force that controls their every action, punishes them severely for any misstep, and leaves many of them living in fear and servitude.  As you read the book make sure you never forget: This organization does not pay taxes.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Infidel is the poignant, disturbing, and inspirational memoir of how New Atheist and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali survived and escaped a life of religious brutality to become a role model and beacon for free-thinkers in the Muslim world and elsewhere.  She is unflinchingly honest even on matters that could be less than flattering for her, and she does an admirable job of conveying the mixed emotions of a child who was subjected to terrible things by her family, but loves and empathizes with them nonetheless.  Her frank assessment of the role of Islamic ideology in her plight as well as that of millions of other Muslim women, girls, apostates, freethinkers, gays, and secularists has put her in the crosshairs of Islamists and Regressive Leftists alike – and yet I challenge anyone to read her book and then claim with a straight face that her diagnosis of the Islam problem doesn’t have merit.

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres

Though it is now the subject of much tasteless humor, the Jonestown massacre was anything but funny – indeed, it was a tragedy and a crime on an almost unthinkable scale.  Contrary to what many assume, Jim Jones lured followers to his People’s Temple not by starting out as a cult leader who professed that he himself was god, but as an evangelical Christian preacher.  Once he had a congregation of fanatically devoted followers, he started singing a different tune – but by then they were already committed to him.  When he founded Jonestown he convinced his congregants to relocate there by proclaiming it as their sanctuary on earth; they didn’t know that it was the final stage of his years-long plan to kill them all.  Add in the fact that a third of the Jonestown victims were children and many were forced to drink poison at gunpoint, and the story is clearly not the light-hearted joke it is so often made out to be.  As with so many other tragedies borne of irrational belief, the story of Jonestown reveals how willingly people will act against their own best interests, and even the best interests of their children, when they believe it is sanctioned by god.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris

Any intellectually honest person must admit that there is something happening in the world today that is peculiar to Islam.  Unfortunately, the repercussions are not merely peculiar, but deadly and potentially devastating.  There is simply no question that people will do irrational, sometimes terrible things when they believe they have divine warrant and in that regard, Islam is no different than any other religion.  What does make it different is the frequency and scale with which such warrants are served, combined with the principles of the doctrine itself, in which political conquest is fundamental in a way that has no analogy in other mainstream religions.  Beyond the very real threat that Islamism poses to free, secular society, an honest look at the dogma itself shows it to be every bit as heinous as its Abrahamic counterparts, putting the lie to the “religion of peace” canard.  As an aside, Harris has become a controversial figure for many of the ideas put forth in this book.  I submit that those who make accusations that Harris is racist or supports torture have not in fact read it, or if they have they are knowingly misrepresenting it.

Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things that Piss Off the Godless by Greta Christina

When confronted with the question of why atheists are angry (or why we talk about god so much when we don’t believe), Greta Christina’s list is the best response I have found yet.  Her list encompasses religious abuses both great and small, everything from depriving people of basic human and civil rights to creating divisions within families to hampering scientific and social progress.  What is unique about her book is not only that she seems to capture every legitimate argument that atheists and anti-theists make against religion, but the compassion she has for believers who, she correctly observes, are themselves often the victims of their own indoctrination and dogma.  It is an outstanding manual for summarizing that which many of us often struggle to communicate, and for explaining to the faithful why we feel compelled to discuss religion in spite of not believing in it.

What books would you add to this list?

Actually, Abortion Rights IS a “Real” Issue

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(Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

I will never, ever vote for any candidate who is not pro-choice.  No matter what else a candidate may have going, if he or she opposes a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion, I’m outta there.

This came up recently in a discussion with a “Bernie or Bust” guy who was saying he sees no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  Setting aside the fact that such a remark is either absurdly disingenuous or appallingly ignorant, I pointed out that even if on every other issue Clinton and Trump were identical (which of course they aren’t), Clinton is pro-choice, and that should be sufficient to tip the scales in Clinton’s favor.

This man then proceeded to lecture me – one might even say to mansplain – how abortion rights is an important issue, but income inequality is really the greatest challenge faced by Americans today and why it is narrow-minded and “selfish” (his word) for me to assign a higher priority to reproductive freedom.  Eventually and perhaps inevitably he played the “you’re just voting with your vagina” card, at which point the conversation was over.

I quietly seethed over this exchange for a while and had almost forgotten about it until yesterday, when Donald Trump declared that as president he would seek to ban abortion and punish the women who had them.  This seemed par for the course for Trump and for the GOP candidates in general, all of whom are rabidly anti-choice and who unquestionably delight in the idea of retribution against women who have abortions, but are politically savvy enough to express those intentions in code.  What truly sparked my outrage was not the comment from Trump but the response from the messiah himself, Senator Bernie Sanders.

In an interview with Rachel Maddow, Sanders agreed that what Trump said was “shameful” and reiterated his position that “women have the right to control their own bodies.”  But he then launched into a diatribe explaining why we shouldn’t be distracted by the proposals of a major presidential candidate about the limits of women’s authority over their bodies so that we can focus on the real issues.

“But what is Donald Trump’s position on raising the minimum wage?  Well, he doesn’t think so.  What is Donald Trump’s position on wages in America?  Well, he said at a Republican debate he thinks wages are too high. What’s Donald Trump’s position on taxes?  Well, he wants to give billionaire families like himself billions of dollars in tax breaks . . . Any stupid, absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week.  Maybe, just maybe we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.”

Um, say what now?

Let’s get something straight here.  I am a woman who has past her reproductive usefulness.  The likelihood of my getting pregnant, even if I wanted to, without extensive and very costly medical intervention is effectively zero, and even with such intervention would still be remote.  Abortion services are just not something I am ever going to need for the remainder of my days.  But whether I personally would be inconvenienced by the inaccessibility of abortion is not the issue.

The proposition to restrict or deny women access to abortion is only partly about the actual act of abortion.  The more insidious and more relevant implication of anti-abortion policies is this: They declare women to be less than fully human.  A policy that says decisions regarding whether to proceed with a pregnancy are better made by distant bureaucrats with ideological axes to grind and political agendas to advance, rather than by the woman whose body, health, and future are at stake is a policy that relegates all women, no matter their reproductive status, to a lower class standing.  It is a philosophy founded on and inextricable from the idea that women are inherently incapable of making sound moral decisions and are not entitled to the fundamental human right of bodily autonomy.  It is an unambiguous declaration that women are neither capable nor deserving of self-agency.  In other words, it’s not really about abortion so much as it is about what value our society assigns to the life of a woman.

I agree with Sanders that we do indeed need to have “a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.”  I for one can think of no more serious issue than whether my government will continue to view my person – and that of my daughter – as entitled to equal treatment under the law as a full citizen of the United States and as a human being.  Because a discussion about income inequality is moot if women are forced out of the workplace to have babies and raise children they can’t afford, or into prison or an early grave for opting for an illegal abortion.

No, Actually, Murder is Way Worse than Abortion

Some 2,500 people attend a Pro Choice rally sponsored by the National Organization for Women, NOW, in Hollywood, Fla., Sunday, Sept. 17, 1989. Feminists and pro-choice advocates staged the rally to kick off an offensive to ease Florida's current abortion restrictions and to gather support for the issue which comes before Florida's legislature in a three-day special session beginning Oct. 10. (AP Photo/Todd Essick)
(AP Photo/Todd Essick)

Now that I have stopped seething over it, I feel compelled to respond to Dwight Longnecker’s September 15 article explaining why abortion is “more serious than simple murder.”  Yes, that’s right, folks: The destruction of a clump of non-viable cells with no consciousness or nervous system is a worse transgression than the mere deliberate taking of a living, breathing, sentient human life.  While Longnecker’s position does appear to be in line with Church doctrine, which allows priests to absolve the sin of murder but requires a bishop to absolve the sin of abortion (the pope’s year of mercy notwithstanding), it is nonetheless reprehensible and further evidence (as if we needed it) of the yawning chasm between religious dogma and basic human decency.

Let’s begin by reiterating, for the gazillionth time, that about 90% of abortions in the U.S. occur within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, with nearly half of those being within the first six weeks.  Almost all the rest occur between 13-20 weeks, and only about 1% occur after 20 weeks.  (The Guttmacher Institute has these and more statistics here.)  While reliable data on why women seek abortion after 20 weeks are hard to come by, one major reason is that many of the tests that identify severe abnormalities cannot be done until 20 weeks.  Remember too that the pregnancy is an embryo for the first 10 weeks of gestation.  This means that for very close to 100% of abortions, what is being destroyed is not the chubby-cheeked, fully-formed, full-term infant shown in anti-choice propaganda, but a tiny lump of tissue somewhere between an eighth of an inch to three inches long that has no nerve endings and is completely unable to survive on its own outside the woman’s body.  And this is what we are told is worse to destroy than an actual person.  Let’s look more closely at the qualities he says apply only to abortion and see whether they are not also true of “simple murder.”

  1. The crime is pre meditated [sic] – Even if the woman in the crisis pregnancy is young and ignorant, the others involved in the crime are not. The person procuring the abortion–maybe the father of the child or the parent of the woman who is pregnant–know what they are doing. The abortionist and his staff know what they are doing and usually the woman also knows what she is doing. If the crime is planned and premeditated the culpability is greater.

In June of this year, a Maryland woman poisoned her young son by forcing him to swallow at least one full bottle of pills, and then once he was dead she stuffed his body into her car before setting it on fire.  She has been charged with first degree murder – and yet is somehow less culpable in the boy’s death than if she had had an abortion.

  1. The helplessness of the victim – An unborn child is unable to resist the crime. They are trapped in the womb and completely vulnerable. A crime against a helpless victim is worse than one against a person who can fight back or resist in some way. This is a raw action of violence of the strong against the weak and so the crime of killing is compounded.

In November 2014, a 255-pound man killed his seven-month-old infant son by kneeling on him and crushing him to death because the baby had been “fussy.”  I wonder how Father Longnecker presumes this baby was able to “fight back or resist” an assailant who outweighed him by a factor of 20, or by what criteria he determines the baby was not “completely vulnerable.”

  1. The innocence of the victim – An unborn child did nothing wrong. The unborn child did not offend against anyone. The unborn child is innocent of any crime at all and yet it is destroyed by the guilty. A crime against the guilty is bad, but a violent crime against the innocent cries out to heaven because of its wanton wickedness.

Homicide accounts for 7.2 infant deaths in the United States.  However, whereas their embryonic counterparts “did nothing wrong,” these babies apparently have had the opportunity to commit some offense that makes them less innocent.  Or perhaps the mere act of emerging from the womb taints them with original sin, making their killings cases of “simple murder” rather than of “wanton wickedness.”

  1. The natural duty of care for a child by the parent is violated – a mother and father have a natural and inborn duty to care for the child they have conceived. This natural duty of affection, love and protection is violated by abortion. In abortion a mother and father kill their own child. Therefore the killing is compounded by the sin of betrayal of trust and the destruction of one of nature’s most strong and inviolable relationships: the relationship between mother and child and between father and child.

Six-year-old D’Naja Fields was beaten to death by her parents in July.  The aborted embryo feels no fear or pain and is unaware even of its own existence, let alone any bond with parents.  Little D’Naja felt every bit of the terror and physical and emotional pain that her parents inflicted on her over the course of her short life and horrific death, yet we are to believe that the betrayal against the embryo is the worse offense.

  1. The sanctity of the family is violated – The family is the locus for human flourishing, security, peace and happiness. Abortion violates the family bond and destroys the happiness and security that should begin in the womb and extend to the home. If the womb is not safe for a child, why would the home be safe for a child? If the womb is a place of violence and killing how can the home be a place of love and security?

In the fall of 2014 three-year-old Scott McMillan was tortured by his parents for three days until he died.  He was safer in the womb than outside of it, where he had neither security, happiness, nor peace.

  1. The sexual act is violated – A child is the result of what should be a self giving, secure and tender act of love between man and woman. The child should be the fruit of that action. An abortion not only kills the child it violates and interrupts the natural fruit of the sexual act.

Children are not just the result of the sexual act; they are frequently victims of it. 80% of perpetrators of juvenile sexual abuse, evidencing the ugly fact that all too often sex is not a “tender act of love between a man and a woman” but a traumatic and sometimes fatal act of violence between an aggressor and a helpless victim – a victim like Allorah Warner, whose father raped and murdered her when she was only 19 days old.

  1. Society is damaged – A healthy birth rate means a healthy society. To kill the next generation is to kill the future. Society cannot prosper without children and young people and if the children and young people are killed before they are born society, in the long term, is damaged.

Abortion is not killing the next generation in the US: Of the roughly 6.6 million annual pregnancies in this country, about 18% end in abortion, roughly the same percentage as end in miscarriage.  Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of abortions are sought by women who already have at least one child, making the argument that humans will go extinct due to abortion rather absurd.  Additionally, one wonders whether Longnecker considers the fact of homicide being in the top five causes of death for children aged 18 and under as a sign of a damaged or a healthy society.

  1. The human person is devalued – Instead of seeing each life as sacred abortion treats the human being as a weed to be pulled–a problem to be solved. When the child in the womb is killed every human being dies a little. The result is a change in our attitude to individuals. Those who are weak, vulnerable, helpless and poor can be trampled on. Those who are needy, dependent, disabled and suffering can be eliminated.

The culture of American right-wing evangelicalism has done more to trample the weak, vulnerable, and poor than legal abortion could ever do.  Consider the high degree of overlap of the states with the highest religiosity and those whose legislators refused to expand health care for the poor under the Affordable Care Act; those with the most permissive gun laws (and most gun deaths); and the highest numbers of death penalty executions.

  1. The human body is violated – Even in death the human person is to be respected and the human remains treated with dignity and respect. Abortion shreds a baby’s body. It chops up a baby and sucks or scrapes it out of the mother’s womb. The remains are burnt, sold, shredded or just thrown away. If human bodies are treated like scrap humans will be treated like scrap.

First, I’m not sure how often Longnecker visits the current decade, but non-surgical abortions have been available in the US for fifteen years now and account for about a third of all abortions.  But what if 100% were surgical?  Those of us who are old enough remember well the case of Adam Walsh, a six-year-old boy who was abducted, strangled, and decapitated in Florida in 1981. But we don’t have to go back 34 years for an example of a child’s body being “chopped up” – just a week before Father Longnecker wrote his article, the severed head of a toddler was found in Chicago; more body parts have since been recovered.  Or, he could Google “dismembered children” and still have to choose – the one in Colorado?  Or Louisiana? Or the other one in Louisiana? Or California?  Is the termination of an embryo that does not even have limbs (let alone a functioning nervous system) really more gruesome than the dismemberment of a living – or dead – child?

  1. God’s law is intentionally disobeyed One of the first commandments is “Be fruitful and multiply”. A new child is life. A new child is a gift. A new child is the future. A new child is hope. A new child is innocence. A new child is a blessing. Abortion kills all these things and in disobeying God, God is also aborted from life and society. It is not a co incidence [sic] that where abortion thrives atheism soon follows.

I seem to recall another of god’s commandments making reference to not committing murder.  Then too are the passages in the bible that indicate life begins at the first breath (Genesis 2:7), and provide a recipe for abortion (Numbers 5:12 – 31). These would seem to contradict the good father’s claim that abortion is a more grievous sin in god’s eyes than the killing of the already born. With regard to his claim that “where abortion thrives atheism soon follows,” this is of course refuted by the fact that women who obtain abortion are only slightly less religious than the overall population of American women, and that the most religious states in the union do not have the lowest rates of abortion. Or did Longnecker accidentally give away the game with this statement, revealing that his true concern is not with the lives of the unborn, but with the growth of non-belief?

One has to wonder what kind of person thinks that it is preferable for a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and then murder her infant than for her to take some hormone pills at 6 weeks gestation to expel a tiny clump of cells from her uterus – which is, of course, precisely the claim that Longnecker has made. In the morally normal universe such outrageous cruelty would be swiftly and unequivocally rejected and its sponsors relieved of any further claim to moral authority. But as is forever evidenced by the statements and behavior of the faith-deranged, we do not live in the morally normal universe – we live in the universe where people honestly think abortion is worse than murder, and where those people hold political power and cultural influence.  And that, friends, should frighten us all.

This article was originally published by Rationality Unleashed on October 16, 2015.