When I Don’t Love Ron Paul

Followers of my blog and Facebook posts will have noticed that I am a supporter of Ron Paul. However, as I’ve mentioned in the past, he is by no means a totally “ideal” candidate for me. Because I have posted several favorable articles about the good Doctor, I feel it’s only fair to point out areas in which I am not comfortable with his positions.

While Paul is very smart, and usually a very capable teacher, he occasionally says things that make absolutely no sense. A prime example occurred a few days ago on CNN, in an interview with Piers Morgan. He was being questioned on abortion, and gave a maddeningly wishy-washy answer:

Doug Wilson takes Paul to task on this (and other problematic issues with strict Libertarianism) in this article (HT: Denny Burk), which I commend to you. The thing that is so frustrating is that this is so inconsistent with the position on abortion that Paul has so clearly and consistently established in the past. To have made such a good medical case (having been a longtime OB) for life beginning at conception in books and papers over the span of a career, and then to totally undermine his own position by seeming to not know what “conception” is just doesn’t make good sense.

I wonder, for instance, how his comments in the above video are reconciled with this quote from his 1983 book Abortion and Liberty (which is available online here):

To permit abortion at one day of gestation justifies it at two days; if it’s permitted one day before three months, it’s justified one day after three months; if it is permitted at one day before “viability,” a nebulous term that has no meaning,it is justified at any time. Allowing abortion at six months gestation minus one day precludes an argument against abortion two days later. Attempting such an argument is a legal joke, a medical impossibility, and a moral hoax. Just as a pregnancy of one week cannot be put aside as “insignificant,” claiming it is only a “touch” of pregnancy, abortion, regardless of the reason, cannot be downplayed as only a limited and qualified disregard for human life. Disrespect for life and liberty, once planted, grows rapidly. (p. 39, emphasis mine)

See also: Liberty Defined (published last year — abortion chapter available online here and summarized here), and Being Pro-Life Is Necessary to Defend Liberty, a position paper written in 1981 back when even the Southern Baptist Convention approved of abortion in some instances. In both cases (and many others), he is as vehemently pro-life as anyone, though his strategy differs from other Republicans for helping rid our country of it.

All politicians are imperfect, and Ron Paul is no exception. This is certainly not my only concern (I’ll list others seperately), though I still favor him far above any other candidates currently running. I only wish he could avoid these sort of “what was he thinking?” moments. If he truly believes what he said in that video, it is, in his own words, the planting of a seed of disrespect for life and liberty that could grow rapidly.

Short Film About Hitler and the New Holocaust

I second and third the comments made by Justin Taylor and Scott Klusendorf about Ray Comfort’s new film “180” (posted below). If you watch the video, please take time to also read and reflect on those two commentaries!

I personally have some concerns with Comfort’s methods of evangelism, and some of his logic is shaky (particularly the question in which he asks folks if they would kill Hitler’s pregnant mother; is he suggesting it would have been okay to “abort” Hitler if it would have prevented what he did? I don’t think that was his intent, but it comes across that way). However, his conclusions are correct. As cliché as it is often considered to use Hitler as a bogeyman for comparison with something one doesn’t like, there are real similarities between abortion and the Holocaust, as I’ve argued before.

Take a look at Comfort’s documentary. What do you think about his message and methods?

Book Review: Freakonomics

“Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

I was admittedly late to the party on this one, as Freakonomics has been one of the best-selling books in the world since it was published in 2005. I’ve wanted to read it for a while, but kept putting it off for some reason. Maybe I just didn’t want to feel like I was “selling out” due to all the hype?

Now that I’ve read it, though, I’m glad I did. For a book which — by the authors’ own admission — has no central theme, it remained remarkably coherent and interesting from cover to cover. This is a testament to the strengths of its two authors. Levitt is a brilliant and unorthodox economist with a knack for asking and answering unique and provocative questions. His partner Dubner is a former writer and editor for The New York Times Magazine whose clever prose makes the book an easy and enjoyable read, despite its normally blasé subject matter: economics.

What drives Levitt’s interest in asking unusual questions (such as “Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?” and “How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real-estate agents?“)? It is a combination of his insatiable curiosity, his conviction that conventional wisdom is often wrong, and his economists’ mind which believes that understanding people’s incentives can allow one to draw conclusions and formulate predictions about their actions.

These incentives which drive people’s actions constitute “the hidden side of everything”. Incentives come in many varieties: monetary, social, and moral, to name a few. And just as understanding incentives is a major predictor in the world of finance (the field in which we usually associate the word “economics”), so this science can also be applied to social behavior, as this book shows.

One of the most interesting features of Freakonomics is the relationship between economics and morality. Investigating the incentives which motivate a given action leads to conclusions which may have many moral implications. However, the science of economics is unable to make moral judgments. As the authors state in the book, “morality represents the way we would like the world to work and economics represents how it actually does work.”

Here is an example:

In the chapter titled “Where Have All the Criminals Gone?”, Levitt sought to determine a reason for the drastic and unexpected drop in crime during the 1990’s — a time during which it had been predicted that violent crime would reach unprecedented levels. Conventional wisdom (driven largely by the media) attributed this to causes as varied as “tougher gun-control laws”, “innovative policing strategies”, and “increased use of capital punishment”. However, the data support none of these claims. The conclusion reached by Levitt was that the primary cause of the reduction of crime was the advent of legalized abortion following Roe v. Wade.

Initially, this is a very shocking and controversial claim! But Levitt’s research seems to support it. After all, the demographic most likely to have an abortion (young, poor, single mothers with little education) was the same group of mothers previously most likely to give birth to a violent criminal. This is by no means a pleasant thought, particularly for those of us who are so  staunchly pro-life, but different moral conclusions can be drawn from this evidence.

For those who believe that life begins at conception, Roe v. Wade signals a dramatic increase in violent crime, as they will interpret the data to show that millions of American babies have been murdered since 1973 (a point which is made in the book). However, this is a moral, and not an economic judgment. Highlighting the difference between morality and economics, the authors state that “the trade-off between higher abortion and lower crime is, by an economist’s reckoning, terribly inefficient.” The reasoning? Statistics show that hundreds of babies must be aborted in order to prevent one murder. While it can be difficult to adjust one’s thinking along these lines, it is the thought-provoking nature of this type of investigation that lends the book its value.

So did the book live up to its hype? Yes and no. Freakonomics is great for the stretching of one’s mind (without having to work too hard), but I certainly wouldn’t classify it as “life-changing” as many reviewers have done. Still, it’s a bestseller for a reason, and I encourage you to read it if you haven’t already. I look forward to its sequel, Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.

Buy Freakonomics here.

P.S. – For examples of the type of writing/reporting done in this book, you might like to check out the authors’ Freakonomics Blog.

Ron Paul on Abortion

Yesterday I started in on Ron Paul’s new book Liberty Defined: The 50 Urgent Issues That Affect Our Freedom. So far it’s been an interesting read, though not as in-depth as I might have liked. Basically, it includes fifty short chapters with an overview of Paul’s libertarian views on the issues.

It was intriguing, though, to read the first chapter, which is on abortion (the issues are presented in alphabetical order). A gynecologist before entering the world of politics, Dr. Paul is staunchly against the practice of abortion, but his arguments against it are completely areligious. Instead, his pro-life stance is rooted in classic libertarian ideas of personal liberty, which also extends the concept of “pro-life” to opposing the death penalty and “preventive” wars of aggression. This has put him at odds with people all over the political spectrum.

Here is a summary of some of his biggest points:

  • There is no consistent moral basis for defending abortion as a “right”.
  • The federal government has no authority to rule on abortion as a right, as the Constitution lists only four crimes which come under federal jurisdiction: counterfeiting, piracy, treason, and slavery. Abortion’s legality should be left to the states.
  • For the same reason, pro-life groups that seek a federal ruling to end abortion nationally “give credence to the very process that made abortions so prevalent.”
  • Laws and legislation will never be able to fully end the practice of abortion. “Only a truly moral society can do that.”
  • Deregulating the adoption market would reduce the number of abortions, as people would have far fewer hoops to jump through to give birth mothers options.
  • People cannot be consistently pro-life if they affirm things like torture, capital punishment, nation-building, and wars of aggression. It is an irony that most who so strongly oppose abortion now approve of the rest of these things, and vice versa.
For more, you can read the entire chapter online here. For MUCH more, you can read his 1983 book Abortion and Liberty, which is also free online here. He’s certainly been consistent in his position. In the opening line of that book he writes, “Abortion is the most fundamental issue involving natural rights and individual liberty.”

What the Pro-Choice Movement Has Right

 

In the debate over abortion, my position is clear (see this and this). However, the pro-choice perspective is not entirely without validity. Today I want to look at what I see as the best and most damning objection to the pro-life cause, because if we want to be taken seriously on the abortion issue, we need to have an answer.

The objection is this: While pro-lifers often accuse pro-choicers of caring about a child only after it is born, we are often accused of caring about it only until it is born. Sadly, I think this is an accusation that sticks.

Why are those who are the most politically zealous about ending abortion not equally zealous about caring and providing for those in our society who have the greatest need? For in most cases, abortion is the alternative sought by the most materially, socially, and/or spiritually needy among us.

While it is true that our nation’s welfare system is imperfect, and there are those who take advantage of it, we must acknowledge that there are also a great many people living in poverty through no fault of their own (to say nothing of those in other countries). Many of these people have no access to quality health care, good schools, or well-paying jobs, and have little to no chance of seeing their circumstances change without intervention.

Advocates of an unborn child’s “right to life” lose credibility when we fail to act on behalf of the poor — particularly if we object to abortion on Biblical grounds (do we realize how often the Bible speaks of our obligation to care for the poor?). The problem is that even most Christians view abortion more as a political issue than a spiritual issue, despite what we might say. Ironically, it is the political opponents of the anti-abortion cause that champion the cause of the poor.

The uncomfortable truth for Christians is that no political party aligns with the picture of how Scripture shows us to live coram Deo. Abortion and social justice are NOT primarily political concerns; both are Gospel concerns. If liberal Christians want to see mercy and justice for all people, then they need to deal with sin honestly and consistently. This means seeing abortion for what it is — murder (perpetuated most often upon the poor and afflicted that they wish to love) — and doing something about it.

Conversely, if conservative Christians want to see abortion come to an end in our country and around the world, then we need to come to grips with the Gospel’s implications in how we care for the poor and needy in our communities. After all, if abortion in America ended today, there would be over a million babies born this year into homes where they would be unwanted, or into situations in which even their most basic needs would not be met. Once they have been rescued from death, are we ready to rescue them in life? Are we prepared to adopt these children into our homes? Are we willing to come alongside young, single mothers (who themselves are often as fatherless as their children), encouraging them in the Lord and showing them the Father’s love?

During the first few centuries after Christ, Christians became known for their peculiar love and care for the poor, the outcast, and the unwanted. It was not uncommon for unwanted babies to be left outside to die, or thrown into the sea. Christians worked tirelessly to rescue these infants, adopting them into their homes or setting up orphanages to care for them. The 4th century pagan Roman emperor Flavian Julius, frustrated over the social conditions in the Roman Empire (which was soon to collapse), complained that the hated Christians were putting the Empire to shame:

They care not only for their poor but for ours as well, while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”

It should come as no surprise that the Gospel spread like wildfire as Christians were vigilant in carrying out its social implications. Do we think it would be any different today?

Over the past year, this is an area in which I have personally been very convicted. Laurie and I have begun the process of being able to adopt someday, but I still have a long way to go in changing the way I think about social justice and the poor. There are some deeply-rooted preconceived notions which often prevent me from loving others as I should. Thankfully God is slowly breaking down these barriers and opening my eyes to the great need that surrounds me. The effects of sin are everywhere, and I am realizing that my role in combating sin is much larger than I’d ever thought.

Here are three books that have shaped my thinking in this area:

Is It Fair to Compare Abortion to the Holocaust?

As I anticipated, there were some who weren’t happy with my comparison of abortion supporters to Hitler in Sunday’s post. It’s true that comparisons to Hitler are so common they are almost cliché; it’s become the go-to accusation when someone holds a position contrary to one’s own. So, is this abortion-Hitler connection an ad hominem attack, or is this a legitimate comparison?

My claim was that Hitler’s Darwinist beliefs provided the rationale for his killing of 9 million people (over half of whom were Jewish) and that this is the logical extension of the same type of thinking that justifies abortion by claiming that pre-born children are not persons. Let’s see if this turns out to be true.

In Descent of Man, Darwin began to apply his theory of natural selection to human beings. He believed it was possible for the human race to “degenerate”. With domesticated animals, people control which traits continue through selective breeding; could this be done with humans? “Excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.” What are the implications of this line of reasoning?

If various checks do not prevent the reckless, the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society from increasing at a quicker rate than the better class of men, the nation will retrograde, as has occurred too often in the history of the world. We must remember that progress is no invariable rule.”

To be fair to Darwin, he never advocated killing anyone. He did, however, believe that some humans were “inferior” while others were “better”, and introduced the idea of Man being able to control his own “evolution” through selective breeding; if lesser men were allowed to reproduce, it would lead to the retrograde of human development, rather than progress.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche took this a step further. If Darwin’s theory was true, then it followed that men (little more than “barbarians” and “beasts” to Nietzsche) had thrived and risen to the top of the food chain the same way that other beasts thrive: by the strong willing themselves to power and destroying the weak. In Beyond Good and Evil, while outlining his philosophy for the elevation of a “noble caste” over the “barbarian caste”, Nietzsche writes:

The essential characteristic of a good and healthy aristocracy… is that it accepts with a good conscience the sacrifice of untold human beings who, for its sake, must be reduced and lowered to incomplete human beings, to slaves, to instruments. Their fundamental faith simply has to be that society must not exist for society’s sake but only as the foundation and scaffolding on which a choice type of being is able to raise itself to its higher task and to a higher state of being.” (emphasis mine)

This led to Nietzsche’s concept of the “übermensch”, the “over-man”, introduced in his book Also Sprach Zarathustra (which, incidentally, inspired Richard Strauss’ tone poem of the same name, a dramatic musical picture of the rise of a super-man; it was made famous in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey). Reflecting upon what this meant for humanity, Nietzsche famously pronounced that “God is dead”, and therefore correctly predicted that the 20th century would become the bloodiest century in history. After all, the only thing preventing the strong from exterminating the weak was a lingering sense of morality based on the (to him) foolish notion of a transcendent Creator. Now that men had realized the “truth” about their origin, the ascent of the übermensch was sure to come, leaving the blood of the weak in its wake… which, according to Nietzsche, must be accepted with a good conscience.

Nietzsche prophesied that in order to revive Europe to prosperity, the continent must “acquire one will by means of a new caste that would rule Europe“. Enter Hitler.

Frustrated with Germany’s impoverished condition following the Great War, Hitler and members of his National Socialist (Nazi) Party were motivated by the concept of the übermensch to see this ruling caste (or in their terms, “Master Race”) return Germany, Europe, and the world to the path of progress. Their political philosophy flowed naturally from their understanding of Darwin, Nietzsche, and others. In the words of Hitler’s Deputy in the Nazi Party, Rudolf Hess: “National Socialism is nothing but applied biology.”

Once they came to power, the Nazis simply carried out their biological duty as the strongest members of the human race. They began to systematically eliminate the weak and undesirable: the elderly, the physically and mentally handicapped, homosexuals, gypsies, Jews, and anyone else they deemed to be “untermensch” (sub-human). This was not cruel bloodlust or simple anti-Semitism; it was, according to the philosophical worldview that grew out of the work of Darwin and Nietzsche, the morally virtuous act of those who sought the greatest benefit for the human race.

For in a world which would be composed of mongrels and negroids all ideals of human beauty and nobility and all hopes of an idealized future for our humanity would be lost for ever.” ~ From Hitler’s Mein Kampf

Evolutionary/modernist thought allowed Hitler and others to classify — in good conscience — some members of the human race as inferior and disposable. This is not conjecture; it is history. The question, then, is whether it follows that abortion advocates do the same.

Today, it is politically incorrect to label someone as “sub-human” or “inferior”. Instead, scientists and philosophers (so often the same thing) have developed something called “personhood theory”. This theory posits that there are members of Homo sapiens who, while biologically human, are not “persons”. Notice that almost no one says anymore that a fetus is not human or not alive; the lingo is almost always that a fetus is not a person. It is an indisputable scientific FACT that pre-born children are 100% human and 100% alive.

For a recent example of how this lingo is used, check out this article published Tuesday. Notice two things. First, the author’s use of the term “anti-choice”, a term I addressed in the blog post that prompted this one. Second, and more importantly, his claim that “science clearly shows that personhood does not [begin at conception].” Really? Does science “clearly” show this? Is it an empirical FACT that some forms of human life are not persons? No. Science cannot show this because demonstrating “personhood” does not fall under the realm of science but of philosophy.

The truth of the matter is that “personhood theory” is just the latest manifestation of the philosophical idea that some human beings have the “right” to decide which human lives are better and which are inferior. Without an objective understanding of human life’s value being based on God’s creation of it in His own image, the determination of the value of an individual life will always come from subjective human criteria. And, as Nietzsche knew, this will always take the form of natural selection: the strong being advantaged at the expense of the weak. Who is weaker than an unborn life?

Furthermore, what is to keep “personhood theory” from being extended from the debate over abortion into other avenues of determining the worth of a human life? Indeed, this is already happening. How else can one explain things like assisted suicide, or the Terri Schiavo case?

Abortion advocates have — whether consciously or not — bought into the exact same philosophical worldview that allowed Hitler to consider certain forms of human life as disposable. They have accepted with a good conscience the sacrifice of untold human beings. Nietzsche would be proud.

So, is it fair to compare abortion to the Holocaust? Based on the evidence, I believe that it is.

On second thought, though, maybe this comparison is a little weak. Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than FIFTY MILLION abortions have been performed in the United States alone, and these account for only 3% of abortions worldwide (many of which are funded by our country). Hitler never dreamed of killing so many.

Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice

So often the debate surrounding abortion is framed in the terms of “pro-choice” and “pro-life”. The implication behind these terms is often that their opposites are “anti-choice” and “anti-life”. Is this the case?

I, for one, am absolutely pro-life in every possible sense of the word. I believe that life begins at conception, and that all human life is inherently valuable because all humans are made in the image of God.

Does this make me anti-choice? Not at all. In fact, my belief in the Creator God of the Christian Bible gives me more reason to affirm and endorse the presence of human will, and of Man’s ability to make choices, than those who usually bear the label “pro-choice”. I believe that as image bearers of God, human beings have been endowed with a rational mind and the capacity to use it (something that distinguishes us from other forms of life). Furthermore, this same God has revealed His will to us in the Scriptures, providing an objective standard of right & wrong, and showing us what type of choices we are to make. He has even gone so far as to come in the form of the Holy Spirit to cause His people to make right choices, because we are incapable of making them on our own.

In that sense, I am very much “pro-choice”… but I believe that the choice to terminate a pre-born human life is a morally wrong choice. It’s not a matter of preference. It’s not “wrong for me”, or wrong for some, but absolutely, objectively WRONG for everyone.

Ironically, many who affirm a woman’s legal “right” to have an abortion also believe in some form of naturalistic evolution as the origin of human life, because both beliefs are produced by the same philosophical worldview. The understanding of life as the result of mindless, purposeless forces takes away our ability to choose, or at least to make meaningful choices. If the beginning of “life” is a subjective concept and life has no ultimate purpose, why should I care about an unborn child that might disrupt, discomfort, or inconvenience my own life?

As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, a worldview that disregards deep and eternal realities produces an attitude of “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”. Do whatever makes you feel good today, because soon you’ll be worm food. This kind of thinking leaves a person with no real ability or reason to choose (after all, we were created by random chance, right?); a shallow, relativistic outlook that makes every “choice” always and only about “me”. Decisions don’t matter, because once you’re dead you’re dead. The world will go on without you, mindless and purposeless as before.

So you tell me: Who’s REALLY anti-choice?

And what about the flip-side? Are those who are pro-abortion “anti-life”? Most would say no. One would assume they at least value their own lives. Many also appear to value the lives of friends and family members. Some go so far as to attribute worth to total strangers; even animal and plant life!

How then can they so de-value life that they can so easily terminate the most defenseless lives of all?

The answer is often to change the definition of “life”. They will call a pre-born child nearly anything but “alive”. It’s not a person yet; it’s “just” a fetus… nothing but a clump of cells. Yet this is a very slippery slope.

Once we open the door to subjectively determining when life begins, who is to say when that point is reached? Is there a magical moment when a clump of cells moves a few inches down the birth canal and becomes a life? That’s what the law says currently, but many secular ethicists (the most intellectually honest among them) have already begun to move this point later. In his book Practical Ethics, Peter Singer writes:

“The fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy,and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings.”

Are abortion advocates ready to say that killing babies (as in, eating, breathing, out-of-the-womb tiny people) is okay? They should, because this is the logical extension of their reasoning. Eventually, one could reasonably conclude that one has the right to arbitrarily decide who qualifies as a “person” and is therefore worthy of life, based on any number of subjective qualifications. Indeed, this is the rationale Adolf Hitler (a faithful Darwinist) used to justify the mass genocide of those he deemed non-persons.

I would therefore label as “anti-life” everyone who considers abortion a “right”, because to hold that position requires them to either consider “life” an undefinable term, or to affirm the practice of murder on the grounds of a set of any subjective criteria. There are no other options.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. ~ Deuteronomy 30:19

Edit: Please read this follow-up post.