17 May 2009

False Comparisons and Contrasts

This morning, I am thinking about how debates are framed.

Consider first 'stem cell research.'

This is a political football that is being tossed around Notre Dame University this weekend because President Obama is giving the graduation address there. To hear some of the demonstrators and spin doctors tell it, stem cell research is evil because it “encourages” or “legitimizes” abortion. The (il)logic goes like this. If we permit stem cell research to use cells collected from some abortions, and if a major health benefit is realized, then the abortions and by extension all abortions are made more acceptable. So, a young woman with a pregnancy that for one reason or another she is not sure she about continuing will look at this putative success and conclude that her aborting is contributing to medical research.

I do not know every young woman who ever faced an unplanned pregnancy. I have however known a few. I have never heard stem cell research offered as a reason to abort or even as some sort of mitigation for any perceived guilt. To my knowledge no one has presented the world with either a woman who credibly claims that she aborted on the assumption she was advancing research or even one who thought about research when considering her options.

The fact is this basis for opposing the research is a construct. Its assumption is that the men (they are all in my experience men) who advance it think that some women might act in a particular way if they are empowered to do so. No one knows, but they are prepared to play the Luddite none-the-less.

Another case:

Northern Michigan has a bishop elect who presents several challenges. He was selected by an unusual and controversial process; he has made some overtures to the Buddhist communities that are perhaps beyond the normal ecumenical patterns; he has expressed Trinitarian Christology that is different from most Episcopalians' understanding; he has adopted Buddhist meditation practices and he has received some non-clerical recognition that is translated (badly I am told) as 'lay ordination' from one Buddhist group. He is in short a walking compendium of controversial issues.

Here too, we need to do some unwinding. I was not there but I find the reports of some of his changes in the Baptismal liturgy troubling. In a rational discussion, I think he should be quizzed about them. So too, his Christology might merit a look from competent theologians and his Trinitarian dogmatic.

But that is not where the controversy has arisen. Nope! His meditation and 'lay ordination' that have raised a huge outcry. He is now the, “Buddhist bishop” in a number of articles and blog posts. Never mind that many Christians of quite orthodox leanings including the celebrated Br. Tom Merton and Fr. Basil Hosmer have adopted and commended meditation and prayers borrowing heavily from or similar too Buddhist praxis. Never mind that Christians have been using similar prayer and meditation techniques for centuries. The mob smells blood: release the hounds.

A third case:

One a friend's blog (OCICBW) “AT” writes that gay marriage will fail and “mother and father” families will prevail. His explicit and wrong assumption is that the two are in opposition. No one has ever suggested that as gays and lesbians seek marriage equity they want to disallow ‘straight’ marriage. They have not asked that the room be changed but that the entrance be unbarred.

But for some reason, some straights are so insecure that they think anyone entering their space will destroy it. I have my own ideas of why. They actually think of marriage as something that only those as important as themselves can do. If anyone can do it, they think, why do it? Were I married to such a person, I would worry. I actually read one lady's essay in which she said being faithful was hard and she was not sure she could do it if anyone could be married. (I would have issues were she my wife!)

The common thread in the three arguments is that the debate is not about the topic. The common thread is saturated with fear, exclusiveness, and a lack of self confidence. It is based on the idea that I can only see myself as special if I can keep others out. I suspect the disease is more widespread than we think. I find it hard to explain B033 without seeing its invidious presence in our leaders. (‘Got to stay in that Primate's club!’) This illness appears to me from this distance, to have infected other primates. Cry for Sudan!


Unknown said...

The conflation of stem cell research and abortion is very political. In fact, stem cell lines are made from embryos created during the in vitro fertilization process for couples who cannot have children in the usual manner. The left over embryos are destined to be destroyed after the couple have had their children. Thus, the researchers are saving the embryos not killing them.

The anti-stem cell research argument is an attempt to get the fertilized egg legally considered a human being, so that anyone who has an abortions can be prosecuted for murder.

This has nothing to do with "killing embryos for research." It is simply politics, politics, politics. These people actually do not care a whit about human life and quality thereof.

JimB said...


I am pretty prepared to think badly of some of the political types starting with Alan Keyes. But, I think some of them do care about human life and some of their supporters do. I think they are misled by a rather cynical hierarchy.

Thanks for the note!


JimB said...

From a reader who sent me a note:

"I have only one issue with your third example. Based on how gender neutral marriage has evolved in France, where the 'gender neutral marriage' has effectively replaced the traditional form, there may be some legitimate concern about 'traditional marriage.' I doubt however that this could happen here.

I see your basic point as: some perhaps most people would rather win an argument than be right in an argument."


Hal said...

Apparently many people think that any argument is true as long as it supports what they believe or that it doesn't matter if one supports/promotes his beliefs with falsehood.

JimB said...

Hal, you and Drew (my son quoted above) seem to agree. I fear I do too. For some folks the only thing that matter is "winning." Little things like kindness, truth and honor do not seem to matter much if at all.

Legal types have a word they use, 'germane.' To be 'germane' an argument must be 'relevant and appropriate.' So often the arguments offered in various contests are neither.

Thanks for stopping by!


plsdeacon said...

As a person who is pro-life and against embryonic stem cell, I would take issue with what James (first comment) says.

It is not about control, it is about life. It is about us using another's life for our own ends.

Embryonic stem cells are taken by creating life just to destroy it.

Abortion is about terminating life because it is inconvenient.

And, before you raise the red herring of caring for babies born, I adopted a child of latino origin and I am very glad I did. That is one less baby killed and I have a wonderful son.

Bishop Michael Marshall of England said one of my favorite quotes: "We were designed to use things and love people. We have ended up loving things and using people." Embryonic stem cell research and abortion on demand is taking "using people" to a whole new level.

Phil Snyder
The Deacon's Slant

JimB said...

Deacon Phil,

I did not comment right away, but James does not seem to be responding. So, a couple thoughts.

I am not, as you may recall, one who will make a case for or against abortion or embryonic research on the web. What concerns me is a bit of integrity in the discussion. One can be for or against the research and still acknowledge that the argument that permitting it encourages or legitimizes abortion is specious.

None-the-less, I hear it from time to time, especially when politicians I think poorly of (cf. Alan Keyes) are in front of a mic.

The same can be said about bishop elect Forrester. I am not arguing for his confirmation, nor against it. But, I am arguing for a reasoned debate. One can make a case against his alteration of the Baptismal liturgy on two bases, rubrical integrity and trinitarian doctrine. OK, have at it! But his meditation? Pleeaze!

And so it goes.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to write.


Mark said...

Does anyone around here recognize the difference between "life" and a "person." The church tries to fake us out by saying one cell is a "person." Frankly, that approach is just sophistry. Amazing the number of people who buy that "argument." Incidentally, you may have to erase this statement: I do not like comment moderation. It is your way of saying your commenter is not up to your standards. Kind of pompous, in my opinion.

JimB said...


I think you sort of make my case. That is a viewpoint that presumable can be disputed or supported. My argument is with those who attempt to frame debates so that such discussion becomes impossible.

On moderation. Do you have a blog? I kill off about 1 message a month unless it is less. But that one is either a sales pitch for porn or a threat towards either me or a commenter. I guess those are NOT up to my three simple standards and frankly I am unlikely to apologize for that.


Mark said...

Yes, Jim, I have a blog. Punch on "Jack" and you'll go there. I am Catholic, by the way. Jack

Mark said...

Jim, I have a question for you on my blog. Jack

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